ATHENS — Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou will divorce his American wife of 37 years when he returns from heart surgery in Britain, a government spokesman said today.
Papandreou's love life has dominated the Greek political scene since early this week when he was photographed holding hands with former Olympic Airways stewardess Dimitra Liani while walking in a London hospital garden.
The 69-year-old prime minister was rushed to London in late August for surgery to correct a narrowing of the aorta, which requires replacing a heart valve. Unspecified secondary problems have delayed the operation.
The Greek public has fixed its fascination on Papandreou's private life during the stay with a steady flow of comments in recent days by all parties concerned--the prime minister, his wife, Margaret, and Liani.
Papandreou's four children rushed to his bedside but the nation waited to see whether his wife or 34-year-old Liani would stand watch over the stricken prime minister.
In the end, it was Liani who flew to London.
Government spokesman Sotiris Kostopoulos had refused to comment on Papandreou's private life until today when he told reporters, "When the prime minister returns, the divorce proceedings will start."
Papandreou married Margaret Chant of Elmhurst, Ill., in 1951. He spent 20 years in America as a student and eventually dean of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.
He became a U.S. citizen and was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Papandreou renounced his U.S. citizenship in the 1960s and entered Greek politics.
The prime minister has been linked romantically to Liani since last year. At that time his wife told reporters, "All marriages go through periods of crisis."
Speculation that the marriage was still in crisis a year later was fueled this summer when Papandreou's office told diplomats his wife was to be stricken from official invitations.