NEWS

‘The time for celebration is here’

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, in a nationally broadcast statement, yesterday welcomed the world to Athens, thanked the people for their sacrifices and all those involved in the preparations and declared that the time for celebration had arrived. With the opening ceremonies on Friday, Greek and Olympic officials have been making daily statements expressing confidence that everything was ready for an excellent and safe Olympiad. Karamanlis’s statement carried extra weight as it was a formal address to the nation. «The time has come for us to enjoy what we have worked for: the greatest celebration on earth,» Karamanlis said. «The time has come for us to fill the stadiums. Every Greek woman and man must have a living memory of this celebration, their own presence in this unique moment in history,» he added. «We are in the final stretch. The challenge of the Games is collective and personal,» Karamanlis said. «For a few days, we will change our habits; we will abandon our daily routine, as happens in life when we have house guests.» After fears that the venues and major infrastructure projects would not be ready turned out to be unfounded, officials and media began to focus on the possibility of traffic problems and the danger that many stadiums may be empty. But Athenians have proved surprisingly meek in adhering to new traffic restrictions and have been forming long queues to buy tickets for the Games. Karamanlis, aware that his government came to power last March when most of the Olympic preparations were nearly complete, was expansive in his praise for all involved. «We have traveled a long road uphill before we got to this point, with sacrifices, anxiety and great effort by all. We are now a little way before the great celebration and it is time to say a big ‘thank you’ to all those who worked hard at all levels of the preparation, who work inside and outside the stadiums, who offer their services voluntarily,» he said. Karamanlis thanked the International Olympic Committee and Athens 2004 Organizing Committee, all political parties and governments involved in the effort (namely the PASOK government that preceded his), people, artists, Greek and foreign workers, volunteers and «all the Greek men and women» who «took part in the great sacrifices that were necessary in terms of costs, security measures and the general preparations.» «What was achieved was achieved on the basis of every citizen’s sacrifice. The Olympic and Paralympic games are a national effort, they are an offering by modern Greece to the 21st century,» Karamanlis said. «With the contribution of our allies, we have taken all the measures and done everything humanly possible so that the athletes and all our visitors can feel completely safe. Greece is ready for a successful Games in conditions of the greatest possible security,» he said, repeating a statement of the past few weeks. «We want the 2004 Games to send a message to the whole world, a message of closeness between people and nations, a message of respect for differences,» he added. «All together we must send the image of modern Greece to the world, an image of a Greece that creates, an image of a Greece of culture, progress and self-confidence.» The PASOK party commented: «These are nice words by the prime minister regarding the contribution of all governments and all Greeks to the success of the Games, but they are completely different to what (his) New Democracy party was saying in past years.»