Embattled Socialist leader defends record

PASOK chief and former Prime Minister George Papandreou Thursday sought to defend the record of his short-lived administration and galvanize support for his crumbling Socialist party. ”There were some delays and mistakes but we really began to tidy up the economy,” he said during a meeting of PASOK’s parliamentary group. Under growing pressure to resign as PASOK’s chairman, the former premier rebuffed criticism over his frequent trips abroad -- also as Socialist International chief. ”I promote and defend Greece across the globe,” he said, adding, “I shall always stand by you in this struggle, in whatever post I may hold.” Papandreou, who has seen his party sink to single-digit percentages in recent opinion polls, told his MPs they should be proud for having averted a national default, before lashing out at PASOK’s coalition partners. ”New Democracy should thank us, because by saving the country we also saved them from political extinction,” he said. Papandreou made no reference to a PASOK leadership contest expected in mid-March. But earlier he met with Evangelos Venizelos, who is widely tipped as the favorite to replace him at the helm of the Socialists. Greece’s finance minister and deputy premier briefed Papandreou on recent developments concerning an elusive deal on so-called private sector involvement in a rescue plan for Greece -- or PSI -- and the new bailout agreement. Sources said they also discussed party developments. PASOK's leadership election was due on March 18, but several PASOK MPs have called for succesion to take place as soon as possible. Health Minister Andreas Loverdos on Tuesday bowed out of the PASOK leadership race, saying he would back Venizelos. The two men also teamed up in 2007 before Venizelos was beaten by Papandreou. Addressing his MPs Thursday, Papandreou welcomed a parliamentary probe into claims that his government inflated the 2009 deficit to make way for a bailout and austerity. “We ourselves shall set up an investigative committee,” he said. New Democracy spokesman Yiannis Michelakis on Thursday said that the decision by the judicial authorities to send the case to parliament vindicates the conservatives and «raises a major political question."

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