Papandreou changes tack on jail visit

Citing fears yesterday that his planned symbolic visit today to a British plane-spotter detained on espionage charges might look like interference in the course of justice, Foreign Minister George Papandreou said two of his aides will go instead. Earlier yesterday, the Foreign Ministry spokesman had said Papandreou would visit Lesley Coppin, 51, who has been held pending trial in the Korydallos prison in Athens since last Friday. She was arrested on November 8 on an organized tour comprising 11 British and two Dutch plane-spotters who allegedly took photographs at a military airport outside Kalamata, in the southern Peloponnese. They are due for trial on Tuesday. Photography near or inside military installations is strictly prohibited in Greece, and English-language signs to that effect are much in evidence. It will be a symbolic visit, in response to the requests of many British MPs and Euro-MPs, spokesman Panos Beglitis said. He added that the prospect of Papandreou visiting the male members of the group – currently held in a prison outside Nafplion – was open. But a few hours later the minister issued a statement saying that, as many journalists had expressed reservations that the visit might be considered an intervention in the course of justice, he would not go. The detention conditions are appropriate, Papandreou stressed. Prime Minister Costas Simitis and his British counterpart, Tony Blair, are understood to have discussed the incident over the phone on Wednesday. The British Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Europe have also raised the matter with their Greek counterparts. The plane-spotters were arrested on Air Force Day, when military airports are open to the public. They were later charged with monitoring air force pilots’ radio conversations, as well as jotting down aircraft serial numbers and flight schedules. Yesterday, Beglitis said the group had been cautioned on three previous instances at other military airports before their arrest in Kalamata, and were well aware that they were breaking the law. They had been arrested at Tanagra. They were set free after the law on photography in forbidden areas had been explained to them, he said.

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