NEWS

Powell cancels Athens visit

A few hours after riot police in central Athens used tear gas to stop anti-war demonstrators from marching on the US embassy, Washington said on Saturday that Secretary of State Colin Powell was calling off a scheduled visit for yesterday’s Olympics closing ceremony. Officially, the State Department made no link between the protest and the cancellation, saying Powell was unable to go to Athens due to his workload – developments in Iraq and Sudan. But State Department sources were quoted as saying the top US official had not wanted to create more trouble for the Greek government on the closing day of the Games. «The Greeks have done a terrific job with the Olympics and the last thing that we want to do is have complications with a trip that might detract from their success,» the Reuters news agency quoted a senior US official as saying in Washington. The Foreign Ministry in Athens published a Greek translation of a letter from Powell, in which he praised Greece’s Olympic security effort. «I knew I could travel to Greece for the Games in full certainty that your government has managed to create a secure environment,» the letter said, and proposed that Powell should visit Greece in the first half of October. «This postponement will allow us more time to concentrate on matters of mutual concern, once the obligations of Olympic hospitality you have undertaken are over.» In the first mass protest of the Olympics, on Friday night some 1,000 left-wing and anti-war activists tried to march on the US embassy to protest Powell’s visit. Riot police stopped them at the top of Syntagma Square. Even after the visit was called off, hundreds of communist demonstrators attempted a march on the US Embassy Saturday morning, without success. Earlier, about 100 communists invaded the archaeological site of the Acropolis to hoist a huge banner denouncing Powell. Archaeologists condemned the incident, although the government and opposition parties had no official comment to offer.