Greek minister targeted over comments about quadriplegic candidate

by Reuters
Monday, 6 May 2019 15:02 GMT

ATHENS, May 6 (Reuters) - Greece's conservative opposition plans to submit on Monday a censure motion against one of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's closest aides whom they charge with humiliating a quadriplegic candidate in upcoming European Parliament elections.

The New Democracy (ND) party accuses deputy health minister Pavlos Polakis, a 53-year old surgeon, of insulting its candidate Stelios Kympouropoulos by saying he used favourable laws to get a job in the state health sector.

Polakis, a controversial politician who openly defies Greece's anti-smoking laws, has denied insulting the wheelchair-bound Kympouropoulos and says his comments were distorted.

The move may prompt Tsipras to call a vote of confidence, weeks before the EU vote and parallel local elections on May 26.

With an election due in October when its term ends, the leftist government trails the conservative opposition in polls.

Officials for New Democracy, whose leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has accused Polakis of having a "fascist mentality" who "ignores citizens with the biggest needs", said the censure motion would be submitted on Monday evening.

Polakis has often grabbed headlines.

Earlier this year, he was told off by a top EU health official for defying a smoking ban while dancing in a club. He has also been at loggerheads with the country's central bank over a personal loan.

Tsipras has so far backed his controversial minister.

If he escalates the censure motion against Polakis into a vote of confidence, that could take place on Friday.

The government was also planning to submit to parliament on Monday evening a bill giving relief to millions of people who owe tax and pension contribution arrears.

It plans to announce more relief measures soon.

Greece emerged from its third international bailout in August last year and has been outperforming fiscal targets agreed with its international lenders, giving the government leeway to proceed with handouts in an election year.

Censure and no confidence debates, however, could push back the legislation, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said on Sunday, calling that "a big mistake". (Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Additional reporting Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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