ATHENS -- Less than a week after Greece installed a rickety coalition government, capping months of political turmoil, fresh fears of uncertainty flared Monday when Vassilis Rapanos, the man expected to fill the crucial post of finance minister, said he was turning down the job for health reasons.
The announcement comes just days before a crucial European Union summit that newly elected Prime Minister Antonis Samaras -- also recovering from a medical problem -- has billed as the "first major battle" in the country's bid to win leniency over harsh terms international creditors have insisted on in exchange for more than $300 billion in rescue loans.
Rapanos, the lanky, bespectacled chairman of the National Bank of Greece, was offered the country's least coveted job last week after inconclusive elections on June 17 forced Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy party, to work with two socialist/euro-leftist parties to avert added political instability that risked the country's exit from the shared European currency.
Rapanos reportedly fell ill and required hospitalization even before taking his oath of office. The 64-year-old banker, who was expected to lead Greece's bid to renegotiate bailout agreements signed with its European peers and the International Monetary Fund, was rushed to a private clinic over the weekend with nausea, fever and acute abdominal discomfort. Doctors said it was unclear when he would be discharged.
"As a result of my lingering health problem, I am unable, for the time being, to fully assume my duties," he wrote in a letter to the prime minister.
Samaras, bandaged and bedridden after weekend surgery to repair a damaged retina, was due to meet with his coalition partners at his private residence Tuesday to decide on a new choice for finance minister, a senior government source told The Times.
Acting Finance Minister George Zanias was expected to attend the June 28-29 EU summit along with President Karolos Papoulias, who will be filling in for Samaras.
"There is no way that the new finance minister who will be announced tomorrow will be able to attend," the senior government source said. "He can only be sworn [in] before the prime minister and that won't be able to happen for at least another week."
-- Anthee Carassava
Photo: Vassilis Rapanos in March 2011. Credit: Simela Pantzartzi / EPA