NEWS

Lawmakers seek to sidestep opponents of the ‘illegal’ Olympic Games media village

A site designated for media housing during next year’s Olympics is a developer’s dream: close to a new rail line and highway and with the potential to be a shopping magnet after the Games. Trouble is, the nation’s highest court has deemed the plans illegal and many residents don’t want it. The Greek Parliament yesterday changed that. The Socialist-led chamber passed a measure changing zoning rules and legalized the project near the main Olympic stadium. Such a decision shows the relentless drive by Greek officials to muscle aside any lingering opposition to the long-delayed blueprint for the August 13-29 Games. The International Olympic Committee has said there is no time left to make alternative plans. «I was hoping that they would not make the illegal, legal,» said Sophia Sakorafa, a Socialist party member who was removed from the party’s ballot for spring elections after publicly opposing construction of the 1,592-bed media site – one of seven facilities around Athens that will accommodate up to 20,000 journalists during the Games. «We are not against doing what is essential for this national issue of the Olympic Games as long as it is within the legal framework,» she told The Associated Press. The change approved by Parliament apparently legalizes construction of both the media center and adjacent shopping mall and entertainment complex by Lamda Development, which is part of the shipping and business empire of the Latsis Group. The Latsis fortune was originally built by the powerful mogul John Latsis, who died in April. Opponents of the project claim the planned mall could cripple small shopkeepers in the northern suburb near the Olympic stadium. «It is like buying a house and then automatically getting a shopping mall,» said a resident who asked not to be named. The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, ordered a halt to the construction last year. But work continued despite the ruling, which said that legislation used to zone the land was illegal. Lamda Development has insisted its building permit is legal. The company would not comment on the vote in Parliament. The legislation is tagged onto other measures: allowing foreigners working at the Games to get work permits easily and creating a traffic police command center. «The Olympics will end one day and all us citizens will be summoned to live under the weight of all this cement in our area,» Sakorafa said.