Mimi rages at 'cowards' who cheated her of power

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The Papandreou era in Greece is over, and one woman is feeling the chill wind of change more keenly than anyone.

There has never been much love lost for Dimitra (Mimi) Liani, the air hostess turned First Lady who stole away the most powerful man in Greece and tried to steal a part of his political aura.

But recently the news has been so unremittingly black for her that she must be hoping someone out there has an ounce of sympathy.

Her husband lies chronically ill in hospital and has now been superseded as prime minister by Costas Simitis, his bitterest critic within the governing party.

She has not been feeling too well herself, after coming down with hepatitis- B.

Andreas Papandreou's resignation this week means Ms Liani has lost her job as head of the prime minister's private office, and with it her entire influence over the political class and public life. She has no chance of being invited to run, as she had hoped, as an honorary Pasok candidate at the next parliamentary elections.

She believes the rest of the Papandreou family, including the American ex-wife Margaret, is plotting to freeze her out of their plans for the future.

If Ms Liani is unlucky, she may lose her sumptuous villa in a posh Athens suburb. If the Greek political class lives up to its reputation for vengeance, she may even be pursued on corruption charges.

And if all that were not enough, the intimate details of her body are known to every household in Greece thanks to some of the country's sleaziest tabloids.

But Ms Liani is not to be daunted. This week she has been fighting back, proclaiming in magazine interviews that she is a survivor and has no intention of being silenced by anyone.

''Those who fight me are so small and cowardly. What are they going to do? Burn me at the stake? Let them,'' she thundered from her room at the Onassis Clinic, where she has stayed with Mr Papandreou since he was rushed into intensive care in mid-November. ''They are such cowards, to be sucking up to us and then to be swearing at us.''

These days, Ms Liani is all bile and twisted anger at those who have betrayed her. She accuses her step-daughter, Sophia Papandreou, of stealing her intimate photo album and distributing it to the tabloid press. She accuses senior members of the Socialist Pasok party of mounting a criminal conspiracy to trick Mr Papandreou into resigning. And she accuses the whole country of failing to understand her deep love for her husband by mistaking it for naked ambition.

''I am keeping my cool for as long as I can. I may at some point spit on everything and, by God, leave,'' she said, virtually spitting her words on to print. ''But I won't accept to sell my hide for anyone's sake.''

So what will she do now? ''I can be a charlady. I can scrub stairs,'' she suggests. ''I can live on a lot and I can live on very little. I can sleep on a beach with a rock for a pillow.'' This is not convincing talk for a woman so obviously attracted to the trappings of wealth and power.

''I keep a file with everything that has been published about me and I will some day write a book if only to show the insanity of these times,'' she added. Political sources say Ms Liani is also jealously guarding some - but not all - of her husband's private papers as an insurance policy against any conspiracies that might possibly be hatched against her.

She knows that time is running out, since the Greek nation's patience with her is likely to last only as long as her husband stays alive.

But perhaps she will not be treated so roughly after all. Once she is no longer a threat, people might simply forget her.

This week, even George Kouris, the tabloid editor who initiated the recent naked photograph campaign, betrayed a shred of human feeling.

''They will blame her for everything, but not everything is her fault,'' he said. Coming from him, it could augur a national absolution.