PARIS – Thessaloniki today is taking its most crucial step toward winning the assignment for the World Expo 2008, for which it is competing with Italy’s Trieste and Spain’s Saragossa. The three cities will officially present their candidacies to the national representatives of 92 members of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE). Macedonia-Thrace Minister Haris Kastanidis, who is heading the Greek delegation, said yesterday the period from tomorrow to January 23, when the candidacy file is to be officially submitted, «is the most crucial, one of the most crucial moves.» So far, the three candidates seem to have enjoyed theoretically equal chances for winning World Expo 2008. Lately, however, Thessaloniki seems to be gaining points, however minor. One of the issues expected to be discussed at today’s BIE assembly is the written complaint that Thessaloniki and Trieste intend to submit against what they claim has been the Spanish contender’s violation of a «gentlemen’s agreement.» This was Saragossa’s invitation last November to a symposium related to its candidacy theme (management of water resources) to representatives of BIE member states other than the 14 members of the executive secretariat. Trieste seems to be in the most disadvantaged position among the three candidates, facing organizational problems. Its organizers are said to be intending to ask for a small extension to the deadline for submitting their file. One of the Adriatic city’s considered disadvantages is that it views the bid as an opportunity to restore its old historic harbor, which is out of line with the motto of versatility it has chosen and the specifications set by BIE. Its strong advantage is its promise of financial and promotional support from the Benetton group. Thessaloniki and Saragossa are theoretically on a par in terms of infrastructure, with the Greek city having the edge due to its international airport. Members of the Greek coordination committee take the view that it will be somewhat difficult for BIE to assign the World Expo to a Spanish city for a second time after Seville staged it in 1992. Kastanidis said Thessaloniki’s strong points outnumber its weak ones; its theme, «Mother Earth – Farming – Nutrition,» seems the most appealing, and the city has important know-how in the organization of fairs. BIE members will decide the winner via a secret vote in December 2004.