ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s new finance minister resigned because of ill health on Monday, throwing the government’s drive to soften the terms of an international bailout into confusion days before a European summit.
Vassilis Rapanos, 64, chairman of the National Bank of Greece, was rushed to hospital on Friday, before he could be sworn in, complaining of abdominal pain, nausea and dizziness. Greek media said he had a history of ill-health.
The office of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who himself only took office last Wednesday following a June 17 election, said Rapanos had sent a letter of resignation because of his health problems and it had been accepted.
Samaras himself has only just emerged from hospital after undergoing eye surgery to repair a damaged retina. Both he and Rapanos had already said they would not be able to attend the June 28-29 European summit.
It was a worryingly chaotic start for the new government, formed after the second election in a month, which faces a rocky road in responding to huge domestic opposition to a harsh international bailout in the face of steadfast European opposition to any watering down of its terms.
Only hours before Rapanos’s resignation, a hospital bulletin said he would be discharged on Tuesday. He had undergone a gastroscopy and colonoscopy, an official at the Hygeia Hospital told Reuters on condition of anonymity. The tests “showed everything is completely normal”, it said.
According to a source from one of the three parties in the new coalition government, Rapanos had been under heavy pressure from his family to turn down the stressful job because of his health problems.
Earlier on Monday the three party leaders had announced a trans-Atlantic roadshow to try to persuade skeptical lenders to give them more time to repay the country’s massive debt.
The medical problems of Samaras and Rapanos had also forced a postponement of the first meeting between the new government and Greece’s “troika” of international lenders, originally slated for Monday.
Samaras’s government, an unlikely alliance of right and left that emerged from the June 17 election, has promised angry Greeks it will soften the punishing terms of a bailout saving them from bankruptcy in exchange for deep economic pain.
But euro zone paymaster Germany has strongly rejected major concessions.
Berlin signaled on Monday that Europe would wait for the troika’s report on Greece before taking any decisions on how to make adjustments to the bailout package to compensate for weeks of political paralysis and a deeper than expected recession.
A new date for the troika visit has not been set.
Samaras, 61, emerged from hospital on Monday with a bandage over one eye. He was under orders not to fly or make the long road trip to Brussels, doctors said.
Speaking to Mega TV earlier, government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou had said Rapanos had told Samaras on Friday, after being offered the job, that he had a “chronic situation” that he had learned to live with and that it would not effect his ability to do the demanding and stressful job.
Kedikoglou later said the government was not expected to name a replacement for Rapanos before Tuesday.
The government said Samaras and the leaders of his two coalition allies - the Socialist PASOK and smaller Democratic Left - would take their case for renegotiating the bailout conditions to Europe and the United States as soon as the prime minister was well enough.
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Additional reporting by Lefteris Papadimas, George Georgiopoulos and Tatiana Fragou; Writing by Barry Moody