Illness forces Greek leader to quit

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The Independent Online
ANDREW GUMBEL

After near two months hooked up to life-support machines, Andreas Papandreou finally resigned as Greek Prime Minister last night, after relentless pressure from his party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), to end the political deadlock gripping the country.

Pasok's general secretary, Costas Skandalides, published a letter from Mr Papandreou accepting that he was too ill to go on and urging his colleagues to appoint a replacement as quickly as possible.

"It is obvious that the country cannot remain incapacitated by my illness," the letter said. With Mr Papandreou scarcely able to move or talk, it was not clear if he had written the letter himself or somehow approved a draft,

The 76-year-old Mr Papandreou has been Prime Minister for all but four of the past 15 years and has become synonymous with Pasok, the Socialist movement he founded in 1974. Since his most recent re-election in 1993, however, he has been dogged by ill-health and barely able to carry out his official functions.

When he entered hospital on 20 November with lung and kidney failure, Pasok was at first too much in awe of his status to think about replacing him. But a group of dissidents led by the former minister, Costas Simitis, gradually persuaded the rest of the party, and in particular Mr Papandreou's children, to take action.

Mr Simitis is now leading candidate for the succession, along with the Defence Minister Gerassimos Arsenis. The Pasok central committee quickly said it would meet tomorrow to instruct socialist deputies to elect a new leader. The election of the new premier could take place as early as Thursday.

The new Socialist parliamentary leader will then be given a mandate to form a government by President Costis Stephanopoulos. The new government must be confirmed later by a confidence vote.

Mr Arsenis is seen as a Papandreou loyalist who would continue largely with his policies and appointments. Mr Simitis has called for widespread reforms in the party ahead of the next scheduled national election in October 1997.

The one person to oppose Mr Papandreou's resignation has been his young, ambitious wife, Dimitra, who now risks being thrown out of the limelight. In a magazine interview published yesterday, she accused Pasok and the rest of Mr Papandreou's family of conspiring against him.

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