NEWS

Hoaxes draw anger, appeal to avoid panic

As a rash of anthrax hoaxes erupted throughout Greece yesterday, civil defense and fire brigade authorities appealed to the public to show responsibility and keep calm, while assuring that every possible preventive measure has been taken to anticipate an outbreak of the disease. Meanwhile, Attica police launched an investigation into a hoax letter opened in the Health Ministry on Thursday, which contained a pink powder which turned out, upon examination, to be harmless. The ministry was sealed off, and firemen in biohazard suits disinfected the pavement outside the building. Over the past few days, and today especially, there has been a significant increase in complaints from citizens regarding envelopes with suspicious contents, the Interior Ministry’s Civil Defence Secretariat said yesterday in a statement. They have all proved to be tasteless hoaxes. We appeal to citizens and the news media to show responsibility and stay calm, the statement said. The state mechanism is in a state of readiness and can handle any incident… Attempts to mislead the state mechanism creates severe problems and hinders the work of the scientists and specialist teams that have undertaken to handle and respond to biological and chemical incidents. Fire Brigade Chief Panayiotis Fourlas gave vent to his frustration at the increasing number of hoaxes. It is inconceivable that people should toy with the Greek people’s feeling of security, he said. This is a disgrace. Fourlas said the Fire Brigade’s response to Thursday’s hoax at the Health Ministry – which involved a letter addressed to the previous US ambassador to Athens and somehow ended up at, and was opened in, the ministry – had been excellent. And acting government spokesman Telemachos Hytiris pointed out that anthrax hoaxes cause panic, expense and distract doctors from their duties. Nevertheless, envelopes containing various hues of innocuous dust caused alarm in various parts of Greece yesterday. Two suspicious letters from Egypt and the Netherlands turned up at the University of Patras, and were found to contain a harmless powder. Similar envelopes were found at the Patras post office, as well as at post offices in Trikala, Karditsa and Corfu. Foreign Minister George Papandreou is to take part in the EU summit tomorrow. On October 25 and 26 he will visit Morocco to take part in the 11-member Mediterranean Forum. There, foreign ministers will review the situation created by the September 11 attacks on the United States, in particular on the security front, and study the social and economic consequences of the current international crisis for the region, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The Forum, created in 1994, brings together Algeria, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey.