Athens - The Greek Prime Minister, Andreas Papandreou who founded the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) 20 years ago and has ruled it with an iron fist ever since, faced renewed calls yesterday for his resignation.
Several Pasok MPs brushed aside his warnings on Wednesday that he would no longer tolerate dissenting voices, and continued to demand that the 76-year-old leader step down. "[Mr Papandreou] has completed his contribution, and he must step aside," a former minister, Dimitris Tsovolas, told a rally after resigning from Pasok.
He stopped short of announcing the formation of a new party but told the rally, attended by six Socialist deputies, the time had come for justice.
Mr Papandreou's speech to the Pasok central committee on Wednesday blamed rebels for hurting the government's image as opinion polls showed the party's popularity sliding. "A small clique of high-level party members is becoming a circle of self-destruction ... Cowardice and ingratitude will no longer be tolerated," he said.
He dared rebels to set up their own party and take their case to the electorate, but did not expel them from Pasok, as he has done with dissenters in the past. "The picture was sad. The once-indisputable leader just read a prepared speech and left," said the liberal daily newspaper Eleftherotypia.
The dissenters, rallying around prominent members known as the "Gang of Four", accuse Mr Papandreou of losing touch with reality and letting his "court" rule the country. Criticism has focused on his wife, Dimitra Liani, 40, who was appointed in 1993 as his chief-of-staff, giving her power over his daily agenda and his office.
Among those concerned about the party's future and eager to fill Mr Papandreou's shoes are an ex-industry minister, Costas Simitis, a former European Commissioner, Vasso Papandreou, and a former European affairs minister, Theo-doros Pangalos. They have openly called on him to take on a less prominent role and open the door to his succession.
Mr Papandreou, who staged a political comeback when he returned to office in 1993, said he had no intention of being a figurehead prime minister, and vowed to use the two remaining years of his term to push his programme through. But Mr Simitis said: "Papandreou has chosen to deny reality."