NEWS

PM pledges ‘total security’

The security net over the Athens Olympics tightened further yesterday as the Greek air force set up Patriot missile batteries as part of the effort to make the Greek capital impenetrable to any airborne threat. Greek warplanes will patrol the sky and NATO early warning AWACS planes will ensure that no rogue planes enter Greek air space. At the same time, security on the ground increased with the US government’s provision of two trucks capable of screening vehicles for explosives, guns, people and narcotics. The mobile scanners will be based at Aspropyrgos, west of Athens, and will be used to check trucks entering Olympic security zones and hotels. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and France’s Le Monde, said, «We can responsibly assure Greeks and our visitors from all over the world that our country will organize successful Olympic Games in a climate of total security.» Karamanlis noted Greece had spent four times more on security than was spent at the Sydney Olympics, that the government was cooperating with other countries and NATO to create a security umbrella and that 70,000 Greek officials would be involved. «This is a small example of the extent of the effort we are making,» he said. Karamanlis stressed that only foreign leaders, not athletes, would be guarded by armed security agents who were not Greeks. US officials attended the handover of the mobile scanners at Aspropyrgos. «This is an important interagency effort,» said Scott Blackhall of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection. «It ends a weeklong intensive training program using the mobile X-ray technology,» The Associated Press quoted him as saying. Officials said vehicles could be checked in about three minutes. «This provides a shield against illegal and terrorist actions and accelerates the inspection process,» said Vassilis Stavrinos, general secretary of the Finance Ministry (which handles customs duties). US Ambassador Thomas Miller, who was also present at the handover ceremony, said cooperation between Greece and his country was excellent but efforts would continue to boost security. He said the Greek authorities had done everything humanly possible in terms of security.