NEWS

Olympics, terrorism, immigration top security concerns

The 2004 Olympics, terrorism and illegal immigration will be the government’s prime security concerns in the immediate future, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said after chairing the first session of his new Cabinet yesterday. After the events of September 11, Greece also faces a heightened threat of terrorist attacks, Simitis told journalists. We must be fully prepared, in a state of full operational readiness, and of course we will continue the efforts we have initiated with greater effectiveness. We must reach the point where we can show results, he said. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in the USA, Greece has stepped up security at airports, water reservoirs and other perceived targets. According to Public Order Ministry figures, 166 domestic and 154 foreign targets – such as embassies, diplomats’ homes, foreign schools and companies – have been placed under 24-hour guard. Another 300 targets are under surveillance, while security forces are understood to be keeping a discreet eye on the movements of foreign nationals from Muslim states. Following the June 2000 assassination of the British military attache to Athens, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, by the leftist group November 17, the government has come under heavy pressure – mainly from the USA – to crack what is by now Europe’s most elusive urban terrorist organization. International concern has increased in view of Athens hosting the 2004 Olympics. We have drawn up a strategic security plan, we are cooperating with many countries and this plan will be fully implemented, Simitis said. There must be no question regarding our country’s ability to ensure that this supreme international event is safely conducted. Our country’s image depends on it. Experts from the USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Israel and Australia are currently assisting Greek officials with advice on Olympic security. A third challenge, Simitis said, will be cracking down on the incessant waves of illegal immigrants that enter the country every year. Public Order Ministry figures show a 42-percent increase in police arrests of illegal immigrants last year over 1999. The total for the year 2000 was 259,403, up from 182,118 two years ago. This year, 204,979 people have already been arrested. Last month, Simitis told his European Union counterparts that some 260,000-270,000 arrests are expected in 2001. Presenting what he called a total security system, Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis told the Cabinet meeting that crime rates have been in a steady decline over the past three years, following a peak in 1997 and 1998.