Greek PM George Papandreou replaced his finance minister today in a broad cabinet reshuffle to counter widespread anger over tough new austerity measures essential to prevent Greece from a disastrous default. The critical position, held by George Papaconstantinou since the debt crisis began in late 2009, will now be taken over by outgoing Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos, a leading figure in the Socialist Party who challenged Papandreou for the party leadership four years ago.
Venizelos, a 57-year-old constitutional law professor, is considered Papandreou's main internal Socialist rival. Papaconstantinou, who became broadly unpopular as he imposed budget cuts and tax hikes as part of an international bailout deal, moves to the environment and energy ministry. Other party heavyweights were also promoted at the expense of Papandreou loyalists in a bid to calm internal dissent and push through the new five-year austerity plan, due to be voted on in Parliament this month. (Read more Greek debt crisis stories.)