Full-scale alert over ‘anthrax’

Greece experienced its first full scale alert for a suspected case of anthrax when an employee at the Health Ministry opened an envelope addressed to the US Embassy and found a suspicious pink powder inside it. The powder was analyzed at the Evangelismos Hospital and turned out not to contain anthrax spores, a Health Ministry source said late last night. Meanwhile, the Greek military prepared to play a more active part in civil defense in cases of biological terrorism and personnel are to start training soon to deal with nuclear, biological and chemical attacks. Teams have been set up already in Athens and Thessaloniki and, as soon as they get their materiel, they will be at the service of the general secretariat for civil defense, said Brig. Stylianos Panagopoulos, an officer of the army general staff. There have been many anthrax hoaxes and false alarms in Greece over the past few days but yesterday’s incident was the first to be taken seriously. When the envelope was opened at 11 a.m., apparently by mistake as Health Ministry mailroom employees dealt with the day’s mail, the two women and one man saw the powder as well as anti-American cuttings from Greek newspapers. The envelope was addressed to the former US ambassador, Nicholas Burns. The employees informed their bosses and the state machinery, in the form of the Civil Defense Secretariat’s task force that had been primed for such instances in the last few days, sprang into action. People who were in the ministry building on Aristotelous Street were not allowed to leave for several hours and no one was allowed in, except for Papadopoulos, who rushed there after a Cabinet meeting. Traffic was stopped and an ambulance pulled up outside. The three mailroom employees were made to wash with soap and water. Fire brigade officers in special biohazard suits disinfected the sidewalk outside the ministry with chlorine and soapy water. The ministry’s general-secterary, Haralambos Sofianos, said that though it was likely that the powder was a hoax, all the necessary measures had been taken. Meanwhile, about 500 students and anti-globalization protesters staged an anti-war rally from central Athens to the US Embassy early yesterday afternoon, paralyzing traffic. No incidents were reported. The government is barred by the European Union from injecting any more money into Olympic. However, it may choose to pressure the EU over the restructuring, presenting it as the only alternative to bankruptcy.

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