N17 charges are read out

Just two days into the November 17 trial, with most defendants denying the charges read against them yesterday, the government made it very clear comments on the issue from US officials were unwelcome. Ministers hastened to attack comments by the US ambassador in Athens which were taken to imply that not all group members had ended up in the bag. «If the remarks were accurately conveyed, there is a major issue of credibility,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. He was referring to a New York Times article on Monday that quoted US Ambassador Thomas Miller as saying he felt the 19 defendants «represent the bulk of the operational element of the organization.» Protopappas said Miller had until recently praised the Greek government’s handling of the N17 investigation. «This cannot be changed in a few days… Mr Miller should not be over-hasty, and should not change his statements.» In a Korydallos Prison courtroom devoid of the controversial bulletproof glass paneling around the defendants that took up much of the three judges’ time on the trial’s opening day, only five of the suspects – Vassilis Tzortzatos, Patroklos Tselentis, Thomas Serifis, Costas Telios and Sotiris Kondylis – admitted to any of the charges. The group killed 23 people between December 1975 and June 2000, and carried out a spate of bomb attacks and rocket attacks as well as several bank robberies to finance its activities – and to provide a regular income for its members. A sixth defendant, beekeeper Dimitris Koufodinas, 45, the group’s alleged chief hit man, said that, while he denied the charges, his stance during the trial «will be consistent with my statement undertaking political responsibility for Revolutionary Organization November 17’s actions.» Koufodinas, whose wife, beekeeper Angeliki Sotiropoulou, is the only woman among the defendants, also claimed the trial was political. This was echoed by icon-painter and alleged hit man Savvas Xeros, 41, who said the three-judge criminal appeals court was «prejudiced, unjust and illegal» and should not be trying the suspects «as it is called on to judge political actions.» And alleged group mastermind Alexandros Yotopoulos, who has markedly fought shy of any assertion of leadership since his arrest in the summer, said he had been set up by the Americans. He denied all charges and argued that the N17 case was political. Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s only comment on the trial was: «Let us allow the court to do its job. Conditions are right for it to do its job well.» In New York, where he was attending a UN conference, Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis weighed in on Miller. He «has a tendency to intervene in matters regarding the internal structure of justice and democracy in Greece,» he said. A statement by Synaspismos Left Coalition accused Miller of «using terrorism as a scarecrow to pin guilt on Greek society and exert political pressure.» After the charges were read and the defendants made their pleas, the court turned to the question of whether to allow live TV and radio coverage. Defense lawyers – and, in an ardent speech, Koufodinas himself – argued in favor, as did many of the lawyers representing families of N17 victims and surviving targets. All parties involved must agree for the court to allow live coverage. A decision is expected today.

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