2004 Games will draw 1.5 million visitors, mayor of Athens says

Athens expects 1.5 million visitors for the Olympics and will welcome them with a «party on every street corner,» the city’s mayor said yesterday. «This is a joyous event and everyone will want to take part,» Mayor Dora Bakoyannis said. «We are expecting more than 1.5 million people to come… Athens will have a party on every street corner.» The August Games are being held at the peak of the Greek holiday season. Some organizers have expressed concern that many Greeks – tired of public works and massive security – may leave Athens during the Olympics. But the mayor said she believed more Athenians will stay home this summer. «We want people to be here and we want the stadiums to be full,» she said, adding that many Athenians will not be able to leave the city in August. Police officers, Greek Orthodox priests, municipal workers and a wide range of public and private sector employees will not be allowed to take August vacations. Most have jobs directly or indirectly related to the Olympics. The conservative Bakoyannis also said she did not think general elections would slow down Olympic preparations. The conservative New Democracy party, out of power for more than a decade, has been leading the governing Socialists in polls. «Thankfully, the Olympic Games have been kept out of political quarrels and, for Greek politics, this deserves a medal,» she said. The City of Athens has a limited role in Olympic preparations, which are led by the government and Games organizers. But several programs run by City Hall have already attracted attention – including garbage collection, limiting the number of stray dogs, and regulation of the city’s brothels. Some 500 new municipal police were sworn in last week. The officers will help enforce health and price checks at Athens businesses. Municipal spokesman Paul Anastasi said about 600 stray dogs have been sterilized so far and will be offered for adoption or returned to the streets. Anastasi said efforts to properly regulate the city’s 200 legal brothels have been hampered after legalization to change licensing rules was blocked in Parliament last November. Owners of about 500 downtown buildings have applied for grants to paint apartment block facades, Anastasi said – a figure still well short of the 3,000 target.