An unprecedented security operation swung into action yesterday in Athens and another four cities hosting Olympic venues, with thousands of police officers moving into the positions they will be covering during the August 13-29 Games. «For us, the Olympics start now,» Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis told journalists during a visit to the Omonia police station in central Athens. «We are beginning to implement the operational planning that was meticulously carried out over the past few years.» The minister said that over 11,000 police officers have already taken up position at Olympic sites, out of a total of 19,500 who will be on duty at venues. Together with military, coast guard and fire brigade personnel, a force of some 37,000 will be guarding Olympic installations, while the total security force for the Games will reach 70,000. «This force is gradually being placed in position,» Voulgarakis said. «Everyone will know exactly what he has to do, where he is positioned, what his duties are and what his working hours will be. By around mid-July, all personnel will have been deployed.» Apart from the Games venues, police started to step up patrols in city squares, transport hubs and other public areas, while teams of explosives disposal experts will be on standby to handle bomb scares. Later in the day, Voulgarakis discussed NATO security aid during the Olympics with the alliance’s visiting supreme commander for Europe, General James Jones. On Monday, military, police, coast guard and fire brigade personnel will hold a major Olympic security exercise – under a news blackout – in the port of Piraeus which will be the last of its kind before the Olympics.