NEWS

Stage set for Games

As Athens prepares to relive the excitement of August with the September 17-28 Paralympics, which open tonight, authorities yesterday declared themselves ready and called on the public to help host another successful Games. «The 12th Paralympic Games can only be the continuation and seal on the totally successful organization of the recently completed Olympics,» said Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, head of the Athens 2004 organizing committee. The opening ceremony begins at 8.30 p.m. and lasts two hours. The Games will be covered by TV stations in 40 countries. Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said it was the first time the structure of the organizing committee had remained unchanged between the Olympics and Paralympics, adding that free accommodation for 4,000 competitors in the Paralympic Village was also a first. Athens has spent approximately 18.5 million euros upgrading its facilities for the disabled in an effort to transform itself into a more disabled-friendly city. «Our slogan is simple: ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way,’» Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis told a press conference. «We are working to make Athens accessible to everyone, a city where everyone is welcome and respected. A city where everyone can have fun.» Municipal authorities rebuilt 780,000 square meters of road and redesigned 250,000 square meters of pavement to improve disabled access around the city. An extra 600 municipal police officers will be on patrol during the Games. The government yesterday pledged to create a committee to examine matters concerning disabled Greeks. The new body will consist of members from the Greek Federation of Paraplegics, the police and the fire brigade. Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis also announced that, with immediate effect, calls from disabled people to emergency services will have priority and traffic police will be tougher on drivers who park in spaces reserved for the disabled or who block access ramps. «I want to thank citizens in advance for their contribution to a successful and safe Games,» said Voulgarakis. Since yesterday, certain left-hand lanes on main Athens roads have been set aside for the exclusive use of Paralympics-related vehicles between 6 a.m. and midnight. The ban applies to lanes on Vari-Koropi Avenue, on a section of coastal Poseidonos Avenue and part of Kifissou Avenue. Offenders will be fined 156 euros.