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Helicopter prank exposes fragility of government, frustration of Greeks

Lawmakers applaud Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, right, as he waves after his speech during a parliament session in Athens on Thursday.


There's a feeling anything can happen in Greece right now, that authority may crumble at any moment, and perhaps that spirit was best captured by a comedy troupe that tried to clear a landing zone for a helicopter.

Pranksters from Ellinofreneia, a satirical radio program, called the Ministry of Citizen Protection on Thursday and posed as an aviation company hired to extract Greek's embattled leaders from the presidential headquarters. (Read the excerpt here.)

Their departure may happen in a less dramatic fashion in the coming days, as Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou faces a tough no-confidence vote on Friday, but public anger against the administration has reached such a frenzy that the comedians apparently convinced the security officials on the phone that Mr. Papandreou and his entourage required an airlift for their own safety.

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Even more revealing was the reply from the unnamed bureaucrat at the ministry, faced with the fictitious problem of a helicopter hovering over parliament with limited fuel and no clear landing zone.

"Let it crash," she said.

"But if it crashes, it will crash on the parliament buildings," replied the comedian, posing as a helicopter service employee.

"Let it crash on them," the security official repeated. "What good have they been to us, all this time?"

The ruling Pasok party holds a slim majority, 152 of 300 seats, and internal dissent over Mr. Papandreou's handling of the debt crisis could lead to his downfall in the no-confidence vote. His detractors need a simple majority of voting members to bring down the government, and some Pasok politicians appear willing to abstain or vote against Mr. Papandreou.

In a meeting with his rank and file on Thursday evening, a former cabinet minister told Mr. Papandreou that he lives a life of delusion, "outside of time and space."

Many of the Prime Minister's opponents inside parliament want approval of the $180-billion financial aid package arranged in Brussels last week, which has been thrown into doubt by Mr. Papandreou's on-and-off musings about a referendum on the deal.

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Outside the parliament building, however, a band of protesters said they will continue to fight against the deal and the austerity measures required by its terms. A man draped in the Greek flag carried a sign that read, "Traitors to our country, go away, we will not give up our sovereignty."

Maria Dimitrouli, 24, a student and part-time caregiver, used a megaphone to shout similar slogans, criticizing the government for failing to get a better deal from its creditors. When asked why so few demonstrators showed up at this critical moment in Greek politics, Ms. Dimitrouli said that many people have become convinced that the bailout will get approved, even if the Prime Minister loses his job.

"People are tired," she said. "They are disappointed. They think we can't do anything about this."

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