August 28, 2018 / 4:07 PM / 3 months ago

Greek PM touches up his cabinet ahead of 2019 elections

* Greek PM keeps finance, foreign and defence ministers unchanged

* Switches ministers around, makes few changes

ATHENS, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras lightly rejigged his cabinet on Tuesday ahead of a general election next year in an effort to shore up ebbing support from a public battered by austerity from financial bailouts.

Tsipras kept Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, who steered Greece’s exit from its third bailout, and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, instrumental in brokering an accord ending years of dispute with neighbouring Macedonia over its name.

The leftist leader switched some ministers around but brought few new faces to his cabinet. Defence Minister Panos Kammenos also kept his job.

Interior minister Panos Skourletis, a party stalwart, became the Central Committee Secretary of Tsipras’s Syriza party, and is tasked with reversing a slump in its popularity ratings.

Skourletis was replaced by Alexis Haritsis, who previously served as alternate economy minister.

After criticism over the handling of a deadly fire last month which killed 97 people, Tsipras moved his administrative reform minister Olga Gerovasili to the Civil Protection ministry.

Tsipras appointed the government’s general secretary Michalis Kalogirou as new justice minister and promoted alternate defence minister Fotis Kouvelis by giving him the shipping portfolio.

Tsipras told his party’s central committee on Monday evening that the changes were aimed at breathing new life into the party and the government ahead of 2019, a year of elections and political challenges.

He ruled out a snap vote saying that “the mother of all battles” would take place in the autumn of 2019, as planned, after European elections. Greece holds parliamentary elections every four years and opinion polls show the conservatives enjoying a wide lead over Syriza. (Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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