Surgeon flies to aid of Greek leader



Specialists arrived in Athens from Britain and the United States yesterday to join the effort to save Andreas Papandreou's life, offering advice and experimental drugs as the Greek Prime Minister remained in critical condition on an artificial respirator and a kidney-dialysis machine.

The Prime Minister, 76, may have been heavily sedated and unable to speak. Nevertheless, he showed a little of his old potentate's touch, sending his personal jet to England to pick up Magdi Yacoub, the British surgeon who did a triple bypass on him at Harefield hospital in 1988.

Professor Yacoub had just enough time to express satisfaction with the efforts of Mr Papandreou's swelling team of doctors, and to offer an experimental new diuretic to try to reactivate the Prime Minister's failing kidneys. He was joined at Mr Papandreou's bedside by an expert from the Mayo clinic in Minnesota who brought special nutrients to supplement the ever-weakening patient's intravenous drip-feed.

With pessimism growing over Mr Papandreou's chances of recovery, the mood of anxiety at the Onassis Heart Clinic has grown to near-hysterical proportions. Ministers shuffle wordlessly in and out, while in the evenings hundreds of supporters hold candle-lit vigils outside.

The official medical bulletins carried a note of cautious optimism as the Prime Minister's condition appeared to be stabilising. Doctors said they hoped to start weaning him off the respirator today and so cut down the risk of further secondary infection. "He is fighting very strongly and very well," said Gregoris Skalkeas, the Onassis clinic's deputy director.

The prognosis remains bleak, however, with one independent medical authority in Britain saying Mr Papandreou was a condemned man even if the agony could, in theory, be prolonged for days or even weeks.

Despite the uncertainty, the first signs are emerging that politicians are seriously thinking in terms of a post-Papandreou era. Political sources said the two hostile factions in Mr Papandreou's Pasok party had begun negotiations to find a successor acceptable to both - assuming Mr Papandreou does not name his own dauphin.

However, the acting prime minister, Akis Tsochadzopoulos, will represent Greece at the EU's Madrid summit later this month.