2004 budget balloons

The budget for the Athens 2004 Olympics is being dangerously stretched and risks getting out of hand, Prime Minister Costas Simitis was told yesterday. These fears do not concern the budget of Games organizers Athens 2004, which is expected to be balanced, but the government budget. The government will spent billions of euros on infrastructure building and upgrading. The budget was one of the issues discussed yesterday at the meeting of the inter-ministerial committee which oversees preparation. Also attending were Athens 2004 head Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and her fellow executive members and representatives of Greece’s Olympic Committee (HOC). According to sources, Simitis was visibly upset by the demands for more money for certain projects. He was told, among other things, that the study by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava for Neratziotissa station – a junction near the Olympic Stadium where the old Kifissia-Piraeus metro line and the still-to-be-built Athens suburban railway will be built – has exceeded its budget by tens of millions of euros. Lambis Nikolaou, HOC president and a member of the executive committee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), informed those attending that extra funds will be needed for the refurbishment of Karaiskaki Stadium, which will host the final of the soccer competition. Karaiskaki Stadium, built in 1969 and in a state of disrepair for many years, is HOC property. Environment and Planning Works Minister Vasso Papandreou expressed her concern about delays in much-needed infrastructure projects, partly due to the state bureaucracy’s inability to move faster. She proposed that some works be dropped, without specifying which. The IOC’s Coordination Commission is due to visit Athens on April 3 and will not be pleased if infrastructure projects are canceled. The commission chairman, Denis Oswald, has already criticized the decision to cancel the construction of two overpasses along Kifissias Avenue and a new road toward the port of Piraeus. A large part of the delays must be attributed to the government itself, which did not begin building the projects immediately after the Games were awarded to Athens in September 1997. An even larger part, however, has been played by the dozens of lawsuits against the projects. The latest, by Athens mayor Dimitris Avramopoulos against building a part of suburban railway, has led to an unusually acrimonious exchange between him and Angelopoulos-Daskalaki. Yesterday, government spokesman Telemachos Hytiris indicated that Avramopoulos may be willing to withdraw an appeal to the Council of State to stop the project. The EU is to decide by the end of this year on when it will enlarge the union. Cyprus is a front runner for membership.

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