Warring factions divide Pasok

ANDREW GUMBEL

Athens

Less than 24 hours after Andreas Papandreou's mortal remains were laid to rest, the heirs to his socialist movement, Pasok, were at each other's throats yesterday as a congress called to elect a new party leader degenerated into a shouting match between supporters of the rival candidates.

Costas Simitis, the man who took over as prime minister of Greece six months ago, almost lost control of the packed congress hall during his speech because of an unfortunate turn of phrase about Mr Papandreou's autocratic leadership style. Supporters of Akis Tsochadzopoulos, his chief rival for the party leadership, erupted in fury over what they saw as an attack on their dead hero and drowned out Mr Simitis with chants of "Andreas, you live! You lead us!"

Mr Simitis's own supporters then began shouting back the party slogan, "Pasok is here, united and strong", creating pandemonium in the cavernous hall inside the Olympic Stadium in Athens. Mr Simitis only regained the attention of the 5,000 delegates with a dramatic challenge: vote for me as party leader, he said, or I will resign as prime minister.

Resignation would provoke a fratricidal search for a successor, plunging Greece into political chaos and possibly precipitating early elections.

Before yesterday's drama, the entourage which stood by Mr Papandreou during his final illness had been lobbying for a compromise whereby Pasok's traditionalist wing, led by Mr Tsochadzopoulos, could come to a power- sharing agreement with Mr Simitis and his modernising faction.

The events of yesterday afternoon made clear that it will be warfare from here on, and that whoever wins the leadership will find it near impossible to unite the party. Before Mr Papandreou's death last Sunday, Mr Simitis was tipped to win if only because it made sense to give his government the political clout it needs to follow an energetic policy programme and prepare for elections some time in the next year.

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