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Greece: Under the Knife

3 minute read

Greece’s King Paul has been ailing for some time. He recovered slowly from an appendectomy last May, and an illness officially diagnosed as lumbago forced him to cancel all recent public appearances. Last week, looking haggard and pained, Paul managed to attend the swearing in of the government of new Premier George Papandreou. That over, Paul abruptly took to his bed, named his only son, Constantine, 23, Regent of Greece, and temporarily stepped down from the throne to undergo a stomach operation.

Court physicians claimed that the King was suffering from an old ulcer, but two eminent British cancer specialists were flown from London to take part in the operation. The surgery was performed in an emergency operating room set up in Tatoi palace, 15 miles north of Athens; a helicopter waited on the palace lawn to fly the King to a hospital if necessary. After 4 hours in the operating room, the five-man surgical team pronounced the operation a success, but Greece was gloomy.

Attention naturally focused on Greece’s new young Regent. For the past eight years, Constantine has been carefully groomed to take over the throne. He was commissioned in the army, navy and air force, and often sat in when his father talked with government ministers. Tall, lean, and athletic, he won an Olympic Games yachting gold medal in 1960, becoming the first Greek Olympic winner in half a century. Last year Constantine became engaged to his cousin, 17-year-old Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark, whom he will marry next January. “Ourengagement was sudden, not planned beforehand by our parents,” he said. “It was the first time in my life I took a decision without asking my father.” King Paul’s operation came four days after Papandreou achieved a smashing triumph at the polls. The new Premier’s middle-of-the-road Center Union coalition had bagged 174 of 300 parliamentary seats for a comfortable 70-seat margin over the right-wing National Radical Union of former Premier Constantine Karamanlis, who exiled himself to Paris three months ago. A spellbindingif sometime demagogic orator, Papandreou, 76, won Winston Churchill’s admiration as Greece’s first post-war Premier, is a wily, popular anti-Communist who can work with Greek leftists without raising their hackles as Karamanlis did. Papandreou has salted his top Cabinet posts with fiscal conservatives, is pledged primarily to rural redevelopment and to raising the standards of Greek education. With Greece’s attention focused on the ailing King, Papandreou was in a sound position to push his program.

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