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Greek PM reshuffles cabinet in response to political crisis

Latest update : 2009-01-07

Troubled Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis sacked finance minister George Alogoskoufis on Wednesday and initiated a broad cabinet reshuffle to restore government support, badly impaired by riots, scandals and financial woes.

AFP - Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday carried out a sweeping cabinet reshuffle to shore up a government shaken by scandals, unrest and fears of resurgent extremism.
   
A government spokesman said nine ministries changed hands with conservative Karamanlis -- who can rely on a majority of just one lawmaker in parliament -- facing disaster in the polls barely a year after his re-election in 2007.
   
The reshuffle had been expected for weeks as Karamanlis came under pressure from his party to oust officials linked to a controversial land swap with a powerful monastery that had already caused two ministers' resignations.
   
But the shake-up follows a deepened sense of crisis after a month of violent unrest triggered by the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos by police -- highlighted by gunmen seriously wounding a policeman in an attack that bore the forensic imprint and the broader hallmarks of far-left extremism, which has troubled Greece for decades.
   
Police have linked the latter attack to Revolutionary Struggle, the country's most dangerous active outfit -- one that specialises in police and government hits and has injured three people since its emergence in 2003.
   
The policeman, 21-year-old Diamantis Matzounis, needed extensive surgery when his patrol was ambushed by gunmen on Monday in the bohemian Athens district of Exarchia, the same area where the teenage boy was killed on December 6.
   
Police later said that one of the weapons, a nine-millimetre MP5 submachine gun, was matched to a 2007 Revolutionary Struggle attack in which a police station was peppered with bullets.
   
The group, which has yet to assume responsibility for Monday's shooting, is best known for firing a rocket against the US embassy in Athens in 2007, an attack that caused no injuries.
   
Greece and the United States have offered a combined two-million-dollar reward for information leading to the capture of the group.
   
Revolutionary Struggle first surfaced a year after Greece's last major extremist outfit November 17, which had killed 23 people in 25 years, was broken up ahead of the Athens 2004 Olympics.
   
Karamanlis has now come under fire for his administration's failure to halt the group's activities, which include small-scale government building bombings and an assassination attempt against a former public order minister.
   
Wednesday's reshuffle touched few of the major portfolios, except Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis, whose ouster was seen as an attempted break with a series of unpopular budgets and privatisations designed to keep Greece's rampant public debt within EU rules.
   
The foreign and defence ministries were unaffected, and the only casualty at the interior ministry -- which oversees the police -- was deputy minister Panagiotis Hinofotis, a former admiral.
   
Alogoskoufis was replaced by his former deputy Yiannis Papathanassiou, while Development Minister Christos Folias was replaced by outgoing Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis.
   
The education ministry also got a new head in outgoing Tourism Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos.
   
That appointment comes ahead of a fresh surge in planned youth protests over recent university reform and Grigoropoulos' death. University and school students have been occupying campuses ever since the killing.
   
Karamanlis also ditched his cousin Michalis Liapis as culture minister, replacing him with lawmaker Antonis Samaras, a former foreign minister.

Date created : 2009-01-07

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