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Greeks feud over cabinet, bailout

ATHENS, Greece — Lucas Papademos, a respected economist, seemed on the verge Tuesday night of being named Greece's next prime minister, Greek news outlets reported, but party leaders were still engaged in a bitter and drawn-out fight over the makeup of his cabinet.

By late afternoon, Greece seemed to face yet a new set of troubles as Antonis Samaras, the leader of the main opposition party New Democracy, balked at a demand by Eurogroup, the European Union's group of finance ministers, that several top Greek leaders give a written commitment to the terms of an expanded bailout hammered out with Europe's leaders last month.

"There is such a thing as national dignity," Samaras said in a statement. "I have repeatedly explained that, in order to protect the Greek economy and the euro, the implementation of the Oct. 26 agreement is inevitable."

He added: "I won't allow anyone to question the statements I have made."

His statement came just a few hours after Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told a cabinet meeting that five top Greek officials were being asked to sign the letter — a demand made on Monday by the chief of Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker — reaffirming their commitment to Greece's bailouts deals and economic reforms before the next tranche of aid to Greece would be released.

The demand landed in the middle of byzantine negotiations that dragged on through yet another day. The choice of Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank, came after more than two days of intense wrangling and growing fear that Greece's political class would be unable to stop feuding — and positioning themselves for the next elections — long enough to agree on a unity government.

In the through-the-looking-glass world of Greek politics, the argument was not over who could claim the cabinet positions but who could avoid taking them, particularly the Finance Ministry.

Prime Minister George A. Papandreou, who will resign when the new government is formed, was repeatedly rebuffed when he offered positions in the new government, reports said, because nobody wanted to be associated with the unpopular measures Greece will be forced to impose to qualify for new loans from Europe.

In particular, Samaras, who has his eye on the next elections, did not see any reason for his party to participate. But other smaller parties also refused.

Greece's new administration has a difficult road ahead. Its first job will be to secure the next installment of aid, which had already been promised before Papandreou raised the notion of a referendum on a loan deal worked out with Europe's leaders in October. That proposal set off a political storm that was, in the end, his undoing.

Nevertheless, the money is needed by December, Greek officials say, or the country will be unable to pay its bills.

But it must also secure approval of the loan deal, which requires that the Greek Parliament pass a new round of austerity measures, including layoffs of government workers, in a climate of growing social unrest.

Greeks feud over cabinet, bailout 11/08/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 9:29pm]
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