Beach protest grows

Support grew yesterday for Christos Kortzidis, the mayor of Hellenikon, southern Athens, as hundreds of protestors and several professional bodies backed his continuing hunger strike, which is aimed at defending the public’s right to free access to beaches. Kortzidis opposes government plans to tender out the Athens 2004 Olympic sailing center to private businesses and moves by entrepreneurs to set up cafes and nightspots along the beach area. The mayor enters the 14th day of his hunger strike today as a means of pressuring the central government into helping free up the beaches. He has reportedly lost 6 kilograms on a diet consisting of water and juice. The Athens Bar Association (ABA), the Technical Chamber of Commerce and the Athens Medical Association have all voiced support for the mayor and asked him to stop his protest action until a legal investigation into the issue has been completed. Dimitris Paxinos, the ABA president, also asked for a meeting to be held on the private use of beaches with Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias and Supreme Court prosecutor Giorgos Sanidas. Sanidas is seeking the shutdown of Hellenic Tourism Properties, a government-owned company that has awarded entrepreneurs the right to exclusively use public beaches. Souflias avoided taking a stance on the issue yesterday by saying that the problems faced by Kortzidis on his beaches are age-old and that there are many problems to deal with. Hundreds of people visited Hellenikon beach yesterday to support the mayor and help to clean the beach of the piles of rubbish littering the area. Meanwhile, there was more positive news for the country’s beaches yesterday as the number of blue flags certifying the quality of swimming water and facilities on hand has risen. The program, run by the independent non-profit organization the Foundation for Environment Education, upped the number of Greek beaches that have a blue flag by 20 to 428. In 1988, the figure stood at seven. The largest number of blue flags can be found on the beaches of Crete and in Halkidiki, northern Greece. Greece has the second-highest number of blue flags among the 48 countries surveyed after Spain.