NATO chief visits Crete for naval display

SOUDA BAY – NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer yesterday attended a naval display on the island of Crete, under heavy security due to planned protests by anti-war groups. Forces from eight nations staged mock commercial ship inspections and raids during the one-day event off Souda Bay naval base in western Crete. Military and police in nearby Hania were on alert ahead of protest rallies. Protest groups were angered by a weekend knife attack involving three Spanish members from a NATO naval unit, which left two local men slightly injured. Hania Prefect Giorgos Katsanevakis described the overseas military personnel stationed in Crete as «street thugs» and said NATO’s exercise was «a sad development.» «We are fighting so that Hania is free of bases and that no American, or any other NATO killer, comes here after their murderous acts in other countries,» said Nassos Galis, spokesman for a local peace group. Yesterday’s demonstration was part of NATO’s annual «Sea Day» events aimed at promoting cooperation between naval forces from member countries. Eight frigates, a submarine and F-16 fighters took part in the exercise. Gen. James L. Jones, NATO’s top military commander in Europe, said NATO’s naval forces in the Mediterranean had helped deter arms smugglers and terrorist attacks. «The force here in the Mediterranean has helped reassure security in the area. .. We’ve been making great improvements in the intelligence gathering and awareness,» Jones told AP. He described the threat of a terrorist attack in the region as «pretty constant,» but said intelligence improvements had allowed NATO to gradually reduce the size of the Mediterranean force. NATO’s Standing Naval Force Mediterranean is based in Naples, Italy, with contributing nations including Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, Britain and the United States.