Greek former minister and freedom fighter dies in boating accident

Former socialist minister Sifis Valirakis was found off the coast of Evia island on Jan 24, 2021. PHOTO: PASOK/FACEBOOK

ATHENS (AFP) - A Greek former minister and freedom fighter who took part in several bomb attacks against the country's military dictatorship before escaping prison by swimming from Corfu to Albania has been found dead at sea.

Former socialist minister Sifis Valirakis was discovered on Sunday (Jan 24) off the coast of Evia island, according to Athens News Agency. The 77-year-old went missing on Sunday afternoon and the coastguard, alerted by his wife, found his inflatable boat near an islet with the engine on.

His body was located later in the evening about a mile from the boat.

Valirakis was a member of the Panhellenic Liberation Army, a militant group fighting Greece's US-backed military dictatorship that ruled the country from 1967-74. Trained in a Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) camp, Valirakis was arrested in 1971 and was jailed in Corfu.

But a year later he managed to escape, and swam to Enver Hoxha's Albania, where he asked for political asylum. Albanian authorities thought he was a spy and arrested him but he was later released after the intervention of his political friends from around the world.

Panhellenic Liberation Army founder Andrea Papandreou later formed PASOK, the party that governed Greece during the 1980s. Valirakis had served as a Minister of Public Order from 1995 to 1996 with the socialist PASOK government had been a leading anti-junta resistance member.

Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis paid tribute to Valirakis. "Sifis Valirakis has been a brave democrat, a fearless resistance fighter during the dictatorship and a selfless member of parliament and minister during the democracy. Political opponent, but never an enemy," he said in a tweet.

Valirakis is survived by his painter wife Mina Valiraki-Papatheodorou and two sons.

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