ATHENS: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras Monday reshuffled his team handling talks with European and IMF lenders, after his finance minister was sharply criticized for his performance at a euro zone meeting last week.
Athens is dangerously close to bankruptcy and is scrambling to find a deal with increasingly furious lenders to unlock aid before it runs out of money or defaults on debt payments in May.
Tsipras and senior aides expressed support for Yanis Varoufakis and agreed the finance minister would supervise a new team negotiating a reforms deal with lenders, but appointed deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos as coordinator of the group, a government official said.
The appointment suggested Tsakalatos, an Oxford-educated economist and professor who is soft-spoken and well-liked by officials representing creditors, would have a more active role in face-to-face talks from now on.
Varoufakis, a brash and outspoken economist who has rubbed many of his peers up the wrong way, was left isolated at a Eurogroup meeting in Riga and returned empty-handed at a time when Athens desperately needs new aid to avoid bankruptcy.
He was later criticized by media for failing to appear at a state dinner after the meeting. He responded by tweeting a quotation by American statesman Franklin Roosevelt which read "they are unanimous in their hate for me; and I welcome their hatred."
Prominent conservative lawmaker Dora Bakoyannis was among those calling for his head, telling Skai TV that Varoufakis was a "drag" on the talks and that "the best thing he can do is to resign."
"Support for Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who has been targeted by international media reports, was confirmed during the meeting," the government official said, referring to a Sunday meeting of Tsipras with top aides.
"The finance minister always acts in line with collective decisions and the government's leadership."
In another move suggesting a less prominent role for Varoufakis, his general secretary Nikos Theocharakis, who had been leading technical-level talks with the so-called Brussels Group of lenders, will now focus on drawing up a plan for growth to be the basis for a new deal with lenders in June.
George Chouliarakis, considered close to the powerful deputy Prime Minister Yannis Dragasakis, will take over responsibility for talks with the Brussels group.
In an effort to show that Athens is serious about giving lenders access to data, a new team was also set up to support EU and IMF officials gathering information in the Greek capital.