NEWS

The battle with November 17

The government’s top priority, as well as its biggest problem, has become its handling of terrorism after the tragic events of September 11 in the USA along with Washington’s declared intention of wiping out the problem around the world. Greece is a country with an active terrorist organization, known as November 17, that often strikes at American targets. An additional complication is the fact that the country is in the final stages of preparing for the 2004 Olympic Games. As a result, Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s decision to comply with the USA and the other European Union member states in the battle against international terrorism was only to be expected. It is also considered certain that Greece will adopt all practical measures decided in USA-EU talks to boost domestic security and to pursue those suspected of terrorist acts. Above all, the main question is what Athens will do on the local front, given the new dimension to the threat of terrorist attacks by November 17 or Islamic fundamentalist groups that might be working in European countries. It appears that the government’s first move will be to set up an interministerial national security council, most probably called the Crisis Management Council. Its brief will not only cover the exchange of information between terrorism investigation services and those in charge of Olympic Games security. According to sources, it will also be authorized to work out alternative scenarios regarding likely terrorist targets and the practical management, at all levels, of a potential large-scale terrorist strike. The prime minister is to decide on the final form of the council within the next few days, but he has received recommendations to include representatives of the ministries of Defense, Interior, Foreign Affairs, National Economy, Public Order and Merchant Marine. Government officials also claim that investigations will be stepped up into the November 17 and other, smaller terrorist organizations active in Greece and that there will be more in-depth cooperation between Greek and American services, cooperation which is already highly developed. They stress that this cooperation will not extend to areas that may encroach on national sovereignty, neither at the investigation stage nor during the interrogation of suspects. There will be particular emphasis on checking the identities of illegal immigrants to avert the possibility of imported terrorism, work which will involve not only the Public Order Ministry but the National Defense and Merchant Marine ministries. It is also being said, however, that the attacks on the USA will have repercussions on the shape of the Greek government. According to the scenarios being discussed, Simitis will be forced to review his original plans for a radical reshuffle after the ruling PASOK party congress next month and will retain key ministers such as Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos, Foreign Minister George Papandreou, National Economy Yiannos Papantoniou and Public Order Michalis Chrysochoidis. However, associates of the prime minister emphasize that he is abiding by his desire to make radical changes aimed at more effective government and to give the impression that he is truly trying to make a fresh start. In that case, the only potential surprise would be if George Papandreou were removed from his post. When they arrive here, they are exhausted after having made the last stage of the journey from the Turkish coast in children’s rubber dinghies, three or four men to a boat, he added. Who knows how many of them have drowned on the way.