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Greeks Follow Hospital Hubbub Like Soap Opera

December 9, 1995

ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ The bedside manners surrounding Andreas Papandreou have more in common with a modern soap opera than any ancient Greek tragedy.

There’s the frail, 76-year-old Socialist patriarch connected to life-support machinery and a blond wife half his age spending all her time at his pillow.

She draws sneers from his four children and his American-born ex-wife, who all say they’re concerned that the ambitious young wife is conspiring against them. The two women take pains not to cross paths.

A cast of hundreds _ including journalists, politicians, popcorn vendors and the simply curious _ gathers outside the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, where Papandreou has been hospitalized for three weeks, waiting for every development.

And millions of people keep up with statements about Papandreou’s health, about who will succeed him, about how many times his wife, ex-flight attendant Dimitra Liani, fought with the children and with wife No. 1.

All television and radio stations interrupted programming Saturday to relay the daily news bulletin from the hospital.

``The general condition of the premier’s health is unchanged,″ it said, adding that Papandreou was still hooked to a respirator and a kidney machine.

The bulletin also said that Papandreou was using the respirator less and less, in line with the upbeat tone of the news on his health following a tracheotomy Wednesday.

Papandreou regained consciousness on Monday and sat in a chair for a few hours on Friday, prompting government spokesman Telemachus Hytiris to say that the premier would be home by Christmas. The government admitted Papandreou could not talk, but nonetheless leaked stories that he was eating chicken soup. It turned out he was still being fed through a tube in his stomach.

The rumors about Papandreou’s wife seem to have no bounds. The latest say she runs Greece through secure phones installed in the intensive care ward and that she is scheming to get the premier back to the multimillion-dollar villa he built for her in the capital’s exclusive Ekali suburb.

``They’re building an intensive care ward in Ekali,″ said a headline in the conservative Athens newspaper Apoghevmatini. ``Everyone is fuming with Dimitra.″

Until Papandreou’s hospitalization, the reclusive couple effectively ran the government from the villa. The premier was rarely seen in public and only appeared for an occasional cabinet meeting.

Mrs. Papandreou has been the focus of attacks from all sides of the political spectrum, including the ruling Socialist party, ever since her husband named her chief of staff when he returned to power in 1993. He had previously governed from 1981-89.

Two newspapers opposed to Papandreou published nude photos of Mrs. Papandreou last month in an attempt to drive Papandreou from office.

Now, Greek media say she is fighting mad. Mrs. Papandreou reportedly has tried to force the hospital to kick out Papandreou’s children, including education minister George Papandreou.

The media also said she refused to be in the same room with Margaret Papandreou, whom Papandreou divorced in 1989 after 35 years of marriage. Since Mrs. Papandreou refuses to budge from Papandreou’s bedside, Margaret has to satisfy herself with chats with his doctors.

``First we had the show with the naked pictures,″ said Harilaos Florakis, president of the Greek Communist Party. ``And now we have a new show at the Onassis hospital.″

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