The hospital melodrama surrounding Andreas Papandreou, Greece's ailing prime minister, took on a macabre new twist yesterday when his 40-year- old wife, Dimitra ''Mimi'' Liana, was found to be suffering from hepatitis B and ordered to leave the bedside she has faithfully attended for the past six weeks.
An official bulletin said that the prime minister's wife had been diagnosed at the initial stages of the disease and should recover within four to eight weeks. Ms Liana was moved into a separate room on the first floor of the Onassis clinic in Athens, where her husband has been treated for lung and kidney failure since 20 November.
Ms Liana's incapacitation is likely only to intensify the battle to find a successor to Mr Papandreou, because she was one of the few key members of his retinue who refused to countenance his resignation, even though he is barely conscious and unlikely ever to return to public life.
Dissidents inside Mr Papandreou's socialist party, Pasok, have demanded a replacement by the end of this month at the latest, while the opposition New Democracy Party has tabled a censure motion in parliament in an effort to pull the country out of its political impasse.
Much speculation focused yesterday on the cause of Ms Liana's illness, a particularly virulent form of hepatitis, contracted, like HIV, from blood, sperm or other bodily fluids. The most common causes are sexual intercourse or sharing of needles for drug abuse.
Government sources suggested Ms Liana could have been infected by acupuncture or a special cell rejuvenation treatment. But Greece's tabloid editors, who have published old photos of her in sexually compromising positions, are unlikely to waste much time.