Protesters attack Greek health minister during hospital visit

ATHENS (AFP) - Greece's Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis was shoved and hit by protesters Friday during an official visit to a hospital, just as the government is preparing radical changes to the health sector.

During a scheduled visit to Athens' public Attiko hospital, Georgiadis was assaulted by disgruntled hospital staff and other protesters, the state-run Athens News Agency reported.

"I was pushed and hit across the face," the minister told To Vima radio. He was not hurt in the incident.

Following the intervention of the police, Mr Georgiadis was able to complete the tour and talk to doctors and hospital staff as planned.

Prior to the visit, hospital employees had issued a statement calling the minister a "persona non grata," according to the agency.

Mr Georgiadis was appointed health minister in June, following a cabinet reshuffle.

A former member of extreme right party Laos, he joined conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's New Democracy last year. Some of the attackers reportedly shouted slogans targeting his extreme right political background.

"We condemn this unacceptable attack," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told parliament.

Earlier this week, Mr Georgiadis told journalists the government intends to turn at least five small Athens public hospitals into health centres that will focus on chronic illnesses.

The change will result in the transfer of many employees to bigger hospitals, which according to the ministry suffer from staff shortages.

The government also intends to carry out mergers, as part of a broader restructuring of the health sector.

Greece is about to implement a wider redeployment scheme for civil servants, after lawmakers narrowly approved a bill of sweeping reforms on Thursday, changes necessary for the indebted country to receive the next tranche of its EU-IMF rescue loans.

The scheme gives thousands of civil servants - including teachers and municipal police - eight months on reduced salaries to find new posts elsewhere or accept those offered to them. Otherwise, they will lose their jobs.

Public sector employees have protested against the redeployment plans all week.