Plane-spotters fly home today

All 14 British and Dutch plane-spotters released from pre-trial detention in Nafplion and Athens yesterday were due to fly home today after spending five weeks in prison on espionage charges. They were released after paying bail of five million drachmas each, on the understanding that they will be tried in Greece at some time in the future on charges that were commuted this week from criminal to misdemeanor level. The group was arrested on November 8 in Kalamata for allegedly photographing aircraft and installations at the local military airport during an open day. As days passed without any indication of when or whether they would be released on bail, the British government repeatedly asked Athens to speed up the procedure. Paul Coppin, 45, and Wayne Groves, 38, the first of the 11 British men to be let out yesterday afternoon from the prison outside Nafplion, in the northeastern Peloponnese, where they had been held since November 12, had their bail paid by the Daily Mail British tabloid – which ran a campaign advising its readers to boycott Greek exports. Netherlands nationals Frank Mink and Patrick Dirksen were freed shortly before that. Dirksen said he would definitely resume his hobby of plane-spotting, but not in Greece. That is not something I ever want to do again, he said. Among the released Britons was Lesley Coppin, 51 – wife of Paul Coppin, whose Touchdown Tours company organized the venture – who was held in the Korydallos prison in western Athens, as the Nafplion jail has no women’s wing. c Meanwhile, the 15 EU leaders agreed to deploy a force of between 3,000 and 4,000 soldiers to Afghanistan as part of an international peacekeeping force. The force will be deployed by December 22. All 15 countries will sent contingents.

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