NEWS

Politics and Olympics

Olympic preparations are going well, despite some problems, Prime Minister Costas Simitis told Parliament during a debate on the Athens 2004 Games yesterday. Although he called for national unity to help achieve a successful Olympiad, Simitis grabbed the opportunity to attack the opposition New Democracy party for what he called «conservatism, immobility and pettiness.» ND leader Costas Karamanlis accused the government of being slow in its preparations, of ignoring the fact that the conservatives supported it in national issues and of trying to sow division with its tactics. Simitis stressed «the need for the creative participation of all forces for this national cause.» He acknowledged the difficulties that have arisen, saying «These things happen elsewhere as well.» «In our undertaking we have faced and we are facing many difficulties. Technical difficulties, organizational difficulties, but, most of all, an undercurrent of mistrust,» he said. «Every similar discussion focusing on the future pits the forces of progress and self-confidence against those of conservatism, immobility and pettiness,» he claimed. Simitis said that the budget for the Games was set at 2.66 billion euros (906 billion drachmas) for Attica and 270 million euros (432 billion drachmas) for the rest of Greece. «The activities that were originally budgeted at a certain cost may cost more when their final plan is drawn up or less when discounts are realized. Our target remains for the total not to exceed the overall cost that has been set,» he said. The government said on Tuesday that its budget ceiling was 1.5 trillion drachmas (4.4 billion euros). Karamanlis also called for unity, saying, «No one wants a successful Olympiad more than New Democracy does.» He accused Simitis of hypocrisy in ignoring New Democracy’s support of the government in major issues and of dividing the nation into «us» and «them,» «good» and «bad.» But the political storm grew stronger when Karamanlis presented a chart, dated January 11, 2002, purporting to show that 15 of the 41 Olympic projects were marked red because of delays. «This alone shows that our concerns are justified,» Karamanlis said. Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos answered first by claiming that there was no such document. He later said that such a chart had not been adopted by the Athens 2004 committee, nor had it been presented to the interministerial meeting on the Games on Tuesday. He then said that the writers of the document were «deeply ignorant.» Athens 2004’s press office then said that the document had been drawn up by its technical consultant and is constantly being updated on a monthly basis. Later, Venizelos and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou issued a statement saying that the chart contained «inaccurate information» which «creates a false overall impression.»