NEWS

Detention center for Olympics

Greece is preparing a new detention center to deal with visitors who will need to be detained during the Athens Olympics, because the country’s prisons are an embarrassment, government officials said yesterday. But they denied that they were planning to round up beggars, drug addicts, homeless people and illegal immigrants to detain them during the Games. Justice Minister Anastassis Papaligouras confirmed a report in Ta Nea yesterday that the government was refurbishing an old US base at Aspropyrgos west of Athens to serve as a detention facility, but he described as «science fiction» the paper’s claim of an «Olympic ghetto» for people on society’s margins. «The truth is that more than a million visitors will be in Athens in August in order to attend the Olympics. It is a statistical certainty that some of them will break the law,» Papaligouras told reporters. «It is for them that we are creating a space for temporary detention and pre-trial custody at the old base at Aspropyrgos. It is not a high-security prison and conditions will be good and it will be able to house up to 250 people, most of whom will be deported after a few days,» he added. «We are forced to create a new detention center for these foreigners because the situation that we found in Greek prisons is tragic, as they have been suffocating for years, with double the population for which they were built. And given the fact that the previous government had not done anything to deal with this problem, we are racing against time to secure such a detention center for foreigners,» said Papaligouras, whose conservative party won elections in March. The ministries of Public Order, Development, and Finance and Athens Municipality are conducting a program of joint patrols of central parts of Athens aimed at «cleaning it up» of illegal peddlers (of contraband CDs and cigarettes, for example) and of «marginal» people such as addicts, the homeless and beggars. Officials, however, stress that people will not be detained unless they have been convicted or charged. Papaligouras yesterday met also with the visiting EU counterterrorism chief, Gijs de Vries, for talks on terrorism in Europe and the Olympics.