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Greek PM makes small changes to cabinet, keeps finance, foreign ministers

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made limited changes to his cabinet on Wednesday after a minister bowed out in a housing allowance row, keeping his finance minister months before the country emerges from a bailout program in August.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrives for a cabinet meeting in Athens, Greece, June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Tsipras switched some ministers around in an effort to improve government work and boost his party’s sagging popularity ratings, and also brought in a few new faces.

He gave Deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragassakis the Economy and Development portfolio after Greek American economist Dimitri Papadimitriou quit his post this week in response to public anger over his wife’s use of a housing allowance.

Tsipras also replaced Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas, who handled a massive influx of refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq in late 2015 and early 2016 with Dimitris Vitsas, who was alternate defense minister.

Fotis Kouvelis, former leader of the small Democratic Left party, was appointed Alternate Defence Minister.

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and Alternate Finance Minister George Chouliarakis were left unchanged. Greece is currently being vetted by its foreign creditors on reform compliance.

Tsipras also kept Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, engaged in delicate talks with Skopje over a name dispute with its northern neighbor most countries call Macedonia but Greece calls FYROM.

Aspiring to make Greece a key player in the wider region, the leftist-led government has started talks with neighboring countries aiming to settle long-standing disputes.

Tsipras swept to power in 2015 beating the conservatives, on a promise to end austerity and crack down on corruption. But his agreement to a third international bailout with more austerity measures attached, after years of belt-tightening, have eroded support.

Papadimitriou’s wife, Rania Antonopoulou, quit her role as a junior labor minister on Monday after drawing fire for claiming a 1,000 euro a month rent allowance. She was replaced by Athanasios Iliopoulos, who worked in the division of labor inspections.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Michele Kambas, William Maclean