NEWS

Anti-Athens 2004 protesters march to US Embassy

Hundreds of protesters gathered yesterday for a march to the US Embassy to demonstrate against a major Olympic security exercise involving American troops. The two-week «Hercules’ Shield» drill, which began Wednesday, has rekindled Greece’s strong anti-war movement that brought near-daily rallies during the US-led war in Iraq. The protests also serve as a possible prelude to showdowns between police and groups pledging to defy restrictions on marches during the August 13-29 Games. More than 400 American soldiers have joined 1,500 Greek security personnel in the largest counterterrorism exercise for the Games. The training took on added urgency after yesterday’s deadly train bombings in Madrid, Spain. Experts from Britain, Israel and Canada also took part in the drills. Waving black banners, one reading «Gold Medal for Police Repression,» about 300 protesters joined the march. Police increased security around the heavily guarded US Embassy. «We are protesting against these Rambo tactics aimed at cowing the people and protest movements,» march organizer Nana Vafidi told The Associated Press. Greece has budgeted more than $800 million for Olympic security and will deploy 10,000 soldiers and 40,000 police for the Games. Athens is getting assistance on security planning from seven countries, including the United States and Israel. Restrictions will be placed on demonstrations during the Games and a network of security cameras is being installed around the city. «We will fight for our right to keep this an open city,» Vafidi said. «There are no exclusion zones for us.» Although opinion surveys suggest overwhelming support for the Games among Greeks, a small but increasingly vocal protest movement has grown in reaction to the security measures and the commercialization of sports. Posters with barbed wire and handcuffs in place of the Olympic rings have been put up around the city center by protest groups. Fliers depict the two Olympic mascots, ancient dolls named Phevos and Athena, wearing police riot gear. Last month, a group calling itself by the mascots’ names claimed responsibility for firebombing two Environment Ministry trucks during International Olympic Committee meetings in Athens.