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Athens News Agency: News in English, 06-06-22
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 PM, party leaders cross swords over education, state institutions in ParliamentPrime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Thursday launched into an acerbic attack on ruling New Democracy's primary rival, the main opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), highlighting what he called the colossal mistakes and oversights of successive PASOK governments between 1996 and 2004, mismanagement he charged left a negative inheritance for his government, which is now called upon to solve decades-old problems.
"But the river will not turn back," Karamanlis said from Parliament's podium during an off-the-agenda debate on the state's operation and state institutions, where he also vilified what he called a "sterile reaction, polarisation and political party expediencies".
In pinpointing what he listed as the weaknesses in the country's democratic fabric, Karamanlis referred to growing collusion and corruption over the past decade under PASOK governments; an attempt to manipulate the political system by "vested interests"; the unregulated growth of private television; the massive increase in the public sector's size, and above all, "the adoption of regime-like attitudes".
In citing two examples of this condition under his predecessors, Karamanlis referred to illegal naturalisations that took place over the past few years and the 1999-2000 Athens Stock Exchange (ASE) "bubble".
"We've proved in practice that we operate as a government of all Greeks ... The doors to my office are always open to political leaders and it is my intention to hold more regular and more substantive talks," the premier said in listing-off the resumption of the political party leaders' council meetings, more debates in Parliament and better briefing for the opposition.
Moreover, he dismissed a comment in PASOK leader George Papandreou's letter calling for the specific debate, namely, referring to the state's operation, asking:
"Now? They just lost the elections; it's been two years since they lost the elections and found themselves (PASOK) in the opposition and this problem with the state's operation arose since then? ... Why is there such recklessness as to the essence of the problem and regarding the period when it mushroomed, why is there such a pretension of ignorance, amnesia and such outrageous self-denial," the prime minister rhetorically asked.
"We never denied that there are problems, but we're also not fans of a virtual reality," Karamanlis said, before reiterating that Greece's bloated public sector is the country's "great sick man".
In again hammering home what he called PASOK's heightened responsibilities for the 1996-2004 period, Karamanlis referred to "wholesale hirings" by state entities, especially with contract or temporary terms -- 85 percent of the total hirings -- "thereby burdening public services, utilities with redundant personnel ... Bureaucracy hampered our citizens, undermined (the country's) development prospects and fed corruption, without even the most rudimentary measures being taken ... roughly 100 tax hikes were recorded over the last few years PASOK governments were in power, and the public debt in PASOK eight years doubled," the prime minister emphasised.
"Citizens considered that PASOK had become part of the establishment ... no one (in the public sector) had an incentive to work. Quite simply, all they had to do was to be on good terms with the political leadership in order to receive promotions and supervisors' positions," he said in painting a bleak picture of the public sector in previous years.
"Did you or did you not say these same things?" he said in reference to Papandreou. "And now, two years later, you speak of a client-state? You all (PASOK), who prided yourselves in demolishing everything in order to strike at those who did not declare themselves PASOK? You all, who declared that you dolled out crucial positions in the public sector to friends and acquaintances? How is it possible to condemn these things before the election and to defend them afterwards? Why are you today identifying with the conservatism of the past? What have you done so that changes, which you yourself (Papandreou) considered necessary, proceed? Why are you fighting against them today? What do you propose for tomorrow?" the prime minister said in reeling off a series of rhetorical questions to the PASOK leader and the opposition.
Furthermore, he stressed that two government priorities, namely, constitutional reform to better monitor political parties' finances and transparency along with increasing the judiciary's independence, as well as reforms in the education sector will proceed.
Reply to main opposition criticism
Replying to accusations of partisanship and setting up a 'shadow state' levelled against the government by Papandreou, Karamanlis stressed in his rejoinder that more than 80 percent of public-sector recruitments approved by the government in the past two years concerned the renewal of contracts originally made under PASOK.
He also rejected the main opposition leader's claims of a cover-up in the Pakistani abductions affair, saying that cover-ups were a hallmark of previous PASOK governments and stressed that ND had agreed to six off-the-agenda debates in Parliament during its two years in power, compared with just two over four years by the previous government.
Regarding his party's refusal of a Parliamentary investigation into the Pakistani abductions, Karamanlis pointed out that PASOK had rejected 13 out of 14 proposals for Parliamentary investigations when it was last in power, accepting only one made by PASOK MPs.
He also accused the main opposition party of "misusing" his attendance of an event to mark the 10th anniversary since the death of PASOK founder Andreas Papandreou for petty party-political ends.
Replying to Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (Synaspismos) leader Alekos Alavanos, meanwhile, the prime minister stressed that ND's proposals for revising the Constitution required broad-based consensus by the parties and the holding of elections.
Papandreou slams gov't for reviving partisan 'shadow state'
Speaking after Karamanlis, Papandreou stressed that ruling New Democracy's two years in power had revived a behind-the-scenes partisan 'shadow state' that was promoting the party's interests the public sector.
He said this went as far as the creation of the illegal mechanisms behind the phone-tapping and Pakistani abductions scandals and was responsible for social impasses and the systematic violation of the Constitution and laws.
"At the next elections, the key choice will be which party can ensure a state of law and that the Constitution is enforced. The people know that the party that can do this is PASOK," Papandreou stressed.
He also highlighted that the ruling majority had rejected calls for a parliamentary investigation of the Pakistani abductions, when as the opposition it had demanded such inquiries into the stock market crash, the sinking of the 'Samina' and a road accident at Tempi, and he accused Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis of covering up for a minister and organs of state authority that had broken the law.
Among a catalogue of essentially partisan decisions, PASOK's leader listed the removal of a capable army officer frowned on by the party, influence-peddling and "management through putting out fires" at state-sector companies through the introduction of interviews that allow recruitment along party-political criteria, and others.
He particularly stressed the hiring of hundreds of thousands of contract workers and public-sector staff, which he said was done essentially without criteria and without involving the public-sector recruitments body, the Supreme Council for Personnel Recruitment (ASEP).
Papandreou also referred to the dramatic prison escape by the Paleokostas brothers and other incidents in Korydallos prison, saying they revealed the "complete demolition" of the country's correctional system, while accusing the government of violating seniority lists to promote the judges it preferred and of blatant interference with justice in specific cases.
Referring to the government's proposed reforms to education, meanwhile, he accused ND of undermining studies to promote influence-peddling and of dashing the hopes of thousands of young people to attend university.
In his rejoinder, Papandreou challenged the prime minister to tell Parliament exactly how many recruitments approved by the government involved the renewal of "real contracts" and insisted that the government was "demolishing the rule of law to build a state of the Right".
He levelled more accusations against the government for failing to implement the Reppas laws for social insurance and causing its degradation, a shrinking public investments programme and untransparency in defence procurements, while noting that Karamanlis had only appeared in Parliament once to answer the 70 questions put to him during Prime Minister's Question Time.
PASOK's leader also demanded "clear answers" concerning the purchase of Turkey's Finansbank by the National Bank of Greece, claiming that NBG governor Tassos Arapoglou had said one thing in Parliament and another to shareholders.
Wrapping up, Papandreou said the country was being ruled by "a government of irresponsible ministers to whom the meaning of political responsibility is unknown" and stressed that the country "is not harmed by the truth but by its concealment".
Education dominates speeches by KKE, Coalition
Communist Party of Greece (KKE) general secretary Aleka Papariga said that the dialogue on education was being used to cover up the existing democratic shortcomings, stressing that for this reason her party chose to abstain.
Commenting on proposed education ministry reforms unveiled on Wednesday, Papariga stated - referring to the EU funds that reach universities - that consciences are corrupted because there is control only over management and not over the necessity of expenditures.
Papariga also accused the two main political parties, New Democracy and PASOK, of following the same anti-popular and repressive policy.
Coalition of the Left, Movements and Ecology (SYN) party leader Alekos Alavanos emphasised the current protests by students against proposed university reforms, saying they were a "beacon of hope" for the future.
According to Alavanos, the student movement had achieved a great victory because it had prevented the draft bill on education from being rushed through Parliament using emergency procedures, as the government would have liked.
He sharply criticised government tactics on education, urging the abolition of a minimum pass mark of 50% for entering university and invited the other opposition parties to join with SYN in attempts to prevent private economic interests from infiltrating universities and changes to article 16 of the Constitution to allow private universities to be established in Greece.
 Bakoyannis: Cyprus issue a top priorityGreek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Thursday stressed that the Cyprus issue was a top priority for Greece, after meeting her newly-appointed Cypriot counterpart George Lillikas, who is carrying out a visit to Athens.
In statements after their meeting and a working dinner, the two foreign ministers underlined the close and seamless cooperation between Greece and Cyprus and the complete coordination of their governments' efforts for a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, which Bakoyannis described as "the primary and major goal".
The Greek foreign minister stressed that Athens and Nicosia were working together to bring about the adoption of a solution based on the resolutions and decisions of the United Nations, on the overall effort made by UN secretary-generals and on the new European rules and regulations, given that Cyprus had now been a full member of the European Union for two and a half years.
The two ministers also reviewed all issues and exchanged views regarding the recent EU summit and the best way to prepare for coming developments.
"We had very good cooperation with George Iacovou (Lillikas' predecessor), which will continue and become even closer with Mr. Lillikas, with whom we go way back," Bakoyannis said.
On his part, Lillikas said that his talks with Bakoyannis had been very productive and that the visit would help him better prepare a visit to Athens by Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos in early July.
Asked about Turkey's fulfillment of a pledge to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, as per its commitment in the Ankara Agreement, the two ministers noted that the EU summit conclusions had called on Turkey to comply within the year 2006. Lillikas stressed that the time up until the European Commission's report assessing Turkey's progress in October had to be used to persuade Turkey to meet its obligations and allow a solution.
The Cypriot minister also pointed out that Cyprus had at no time publicly stated that it would use its veto but had asked for specific proposals to be included in the text for opening the first chapter of accession negotiations with Turkey.
"If we had not achieved our goals, the chapters would not have opened," he underlined.
In response to other questions, meanwhile, Bakoyannis stressed that both Athens and Nicosia attached huge importance to having absolutely identical strategic goals and complete knowledge and briefing of various measures during the exercise of tactics.
"There is no difference in the strategic goals of Greece and Cyprus, nor could there be. We are working in the same direction," she emphasised, echoed by Lillikas.
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