NEWS

‘Constantine De Grecia’ visits

In a surprise weekend visit, former King Constantine arrived in Athens with his family on Saturday on a flight from Italy, thus avoiding potentially embarrassing passport controls at Athens's Eleftherios Venizelos airport. Constantine, accompanied by his Danish wife Anna-Maria, and their children, Nicholas, Paul and Alexia, visited the graves of his parents in the Tatoi former royal estate for a memorial service, passed by his old school and made a lightning tour of Athens in a coach before flying for Spain at 2 p.m. yesterday. The former king's 26-hour sojourn in Greece - the third since he fled the country in December 1967 after an unsuccessful bid to overthrow the eight-month old military dictatorship - caused a media frenzy but was played down by the government. «We should pay no attention,» said Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, the architect of a 1994 law that allowed the seizure of the 62-year-old former monarch's Greek estates. Constantine successfully fought back in the European Court of Human Rights, which in November awarded him 12 million euros in compensation. Constantine arrived just after noon on an Alitalia flight from Milan, on which he was booked as Constantine De Grecia. As Italy and Greece have both signed the Schengen treaty on abolishing border passport controls, this spared him the embarrassment of having his identity checked at Athens Airport. The government refuses to issue the former monarch a Greek passport, insisting that he must first adopt a surname and abandon any claim to the throne. The monarchy was abolished following a 1974 referendum. «There is no issue,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. «The former king is one of the millions of European visitors who came or will come to Greece in 2003.» After Saturday's service at King Paul and Queen Frederiki's graves - where he was greeted by well-wishers - yesterday Constantine visited the Anavryta College grounds where he attended school.

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