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Nightclub law divides Greek Cabinet

By
DESPINA KYVRIKOSAIOU

ATHENS, May 13 -- A dispute over nightclub hours has ignited tensions within Greece's socialist government, with Cabinet ministers engaged in a verbal battle over a month-old law forbidding bars to stay open all night.

A Greek television station reported Friday that Labor Minister Evangelos Yiannopoulos threatened to resign following a bitter dispute with the Public Order minister over the new law. Yiannopoulos later denied that he planned to quit.

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The dispute centers around a law introduced in April by Public Order Minister Stelios Papathemelis, ordering bars and nightclubs to close by 3:30 a.m. Previously, nightclubs could stay open all night.

The law was passed in Parliament with a majority vote, but has sparked public criticism, with youths clashing with police outside bars and club owners threatening to shut down until the law is revoked.

On Wednesday, Tourism Minister Dionysios Livanos said the law was bad for tourism and proposed its repeal. He was supported by Yiannopoulos.

'Greece is a tourism-oriented country, and cannot take measures that allow our competition (in tourism) to exploit such opportunities,' Livanos said.

Spain has been exploiting Greece's nightclub restrictions as a way to draw tourists away, he said.

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'We cannot believe a minister would take it on himself to interfere in matters that are the responsibility of one of his colleauges.' Deputy Public Order Minister Costas Gitonas said, referring to Livanos.

Since then, a war of words escalated between Yiannopoulos and Papathemelis. Although the law was introduced by the Public Order minister, Yiannopoulos said as Labor Minister, he was responsible for whether or not the law should stand.

Papathemelis said Yiannopoulos 'should stick to dealing with matters of unemployment, where his efforts will be of most value.'

Yiannopoulos, a frequent night club patron, told a Greek television station that that the Public Order minister 'should concentrate on protecting kids from drugs rather than worrying about the (nightclub) restrictions.'

The flareup has caused tension within the ruling party, with deputies choosing sides.

Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou is expected to intervene to settle the dispute between his ministers.

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