Guns at the Games?

After repeatedly proclaiming that no foreign security officials would be allowed to carry arms during the Athens Olympics – while reports suggested otherwise – the government yesterday sought to clarify the situation. Responding to a New York Times article that appeared on the front page of the International Herald Tribune yesterday, Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis stressed that Greeks were exclusively responsible for the safety of the Games. But he explained that foreign dignitaries would have their own armed guards in accordance with bilateral agreements with Greece. «The Greek authorities will have exclusive responsibility for the security of the Olympic Games,» Voulgarakis said. «When leaders travel abroad, they do so under special protocols that are independent of the Olympic Games and are based on the concept of reciprocity,» he added. «The leadership of countries – the leaders, ministers, kings, or whatever – are one thing and the sports delegations are another. For the sports delegations, only the Greek authorities will be responsible.» The International Olympic Committee does not allow guns in Olympic facilities, including the athletes’ village and stadiums. Citing unnamed Greek and American officials, The Times reported that «Greece will allow foreign security officers to carry weapons during the Olympic Games, to protect athletes and dignitaries.» Kathimerini’s sources say that in the last two years, the staff at several embassies has been increased, with many security officials joining them. They, as members of embassies, may possibly accompany their athletes as they move around the city but not in the Olympic facilities. Greek sources also explain that the special anti-terrorism NATO force that will be stationed here is not made up exclusively of commandos. It is a multinational team trained to deal with major terrorist attacks. In fact, 150 of its members visited Madrid after the March 11 terrorist attacks to evaluate the situation. The team of about 400 people from several European countries and the United States has experts in the evacuation of facilities, experts in Global Positioning System tracking, and medical teams specialized in dealing with specific threats, among others. The Associated Press quoted an unnamed US counterterror official as saying that in response to a request from Greece, the USA has committed 400 American Special Forces soldiers to help protect the Games. The PASOK party demanded «a clear refutation or acknowledgment of the report regarding armed guards for foreign delegations – something which is illegal in our country.» The Communist Party said «Mr Voulgarakis’s statements… raise questions.»