Interim government hits new patch of turbulence

Greece’s shaky interim government took another knock on Thursday as Education Minister Giorgos Babiniotis threatened to resign over his attempt to bypass university reforms and PASOK and New Democracy cranked up their election campaign machines.

Babiniotis, an academic who was sworn in less than a month ago, drew criticism from politicians and the media when he attempted to clear state funding for universities even though they had not complied with reforms passed by PASOK and ND last summer. The legislation demands that universities elect administration committees to oversee the management of their finances and other operational aspects but the institutions have failed to do this.

Former Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou, who now holds the development portfolio, is said to have been one of the government members that reacted most strongly to Babiniotis’s attempt to bypass the university law. Sources said she called Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, who appointed the university professor, to express her anger. Papademos then called Babiniotis to press him on the issue. The two men agreed that universities would be able to receive their funding for 2012 but that all aspects of the law would have to be implemented.

Meanwhile, PASOK and ND stepped up their attempts to win over voters ahead of the polls, which are likely to take place on May 6. Speaking to conservative party members, ND leader Antonis Samaras stressed that he would take a hard line on the issue of illegal immigration.

“Illegal immigrants are taking over our cities; we have to reclaim them,” he said. Sources said Samaras is looking to Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidential campaign in France for policy ideas before the Greek polls.

Samaras, who had abandoned his challenge to the terms of Greece’s bailout over the past few months, expressed fresh opposition to some aspects of the agreement and claimed that he would make efforts to prevent further cuts to wages and pensions.

PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos met with the members of his party’s election committee, who number almost 70, before holding talks with 11 top officials to discuss the Socialists’ strategy for the polls. Several ministers that were close allies of Venizelos’s predecessor, George Papandreou, were not invited to the meeting. 

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