NEWS

Security stepped up across Greece

Security across Greece was stepped up yesterday in the light of US military retaliation against terrorists suspected of having carried out the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. But Prime Minister Costas Simitis told an emergency meeting of his Government Council on Foreign Policy and Defense (KYSEA) that Greece need not be worried by the international situation. We do not have a special reason to be afraid of anything, we are calm and measured in responding to the situation, Simitis told KYSEA. But he stressed the need for maintaining the full readiness of the state machinery to deal with any emergency, revealing the extent to which the government is concerned by the current situation. KYSEA confirmed the security measures that are in operation at all levels across Greece. It also decided to increase security at certain possible targets and to increase border patrols in the face of an apparent increase in illegal migration toward Europe. The military will play an increased role in guarding the border but will not be involved in protecting likely targets of terrorism. KYSEA also accepted an American request for NATO AWACS advanced radar planes based in Greece to go to the United States, along with their Greek crew members. They will be used to patrol the skies of northern America as American AWACS planes have been sent to the area of military operations around Afghanistan. KYSEA was also informed that so far, there does not appear to be any information on a radical Islamic network in Greece that could try to carry out terrorist actions in the country. Simitis also spoke of current developments, especially the briefing he was given by US Vice President Dick Cheney when he telephoned him about 30 minutes before the attack on Afghanistan began on Sunday night. Cheney spoke of a long campaign against terrorism, with this being the first phase, Simitis said. The military operations will not end in the next few days but will take a long time, he added. Government sources said that the US objective in the present phase was the overthrow of Afghanistan’s Taleban regime. Simitis also informed KYSEA of the instructions he had given Foreign Minister George Papandreou before yesterday’s EU General Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg, on the need to focus on the humanitarian aspect of the campaign in Afghanistan and to aim at specific targets. There is an atmosphere of war and in such an atmosphere a climate of fear and panic can be created very easily. It would be very bad for such a climate to exist. Under all circumstances, we need a climate of determined attention, constant vigilance and, most of all, cooperation with our partners, Simitis said. He stressed that Greece stood by its European Union and NATO partners. Earlier, Simitis had briefed President Costis Stephanopoulos on the situation. US Ambassador Thomas Miller visited Stephanopoulos to present his credentials and the president took the opportunity to express once again his condolences for the thousands of deaths caused by the terrorist attacks in America. New Democracy leader Costas Karamanlis chaired a meeting of the opposition party’s foreign affairs and defense officials. This is not a clash between religions and civilizations but a struggle to defend our principles and values, he said. Greece, the country in which democracy was born, is taking part in the struggle to wipe out terrorism, within the framework of decisions by the UN, NATO and the EU. ND’s honorary chairman, former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis said that the Greek government’s position was petty in that it went along with its allies but kept adding provisos. This, he said, could give ill-intentioned observers the idea that Greece was wavering in its support for the United States. Specific targets under 24-hr guard As soon as the US campaign against Afghanistan began on Sunday night, a number of security measures that had been decided on in the wake of the September 11 strikes came into effect across Greece in readiness for any possible terrorist attack. Extra police security has focused on three specific areas. Firstly, sensitive buildings, such as embassies and buildings housing foreign companies and banks are receiving more attention. The embassies of the United States, Israel and Britain are under especially strict guard. Secondly, extra measures have been taken to protect people who might be terrorist targets. Thirdly, measures have been taken to protect the lives of citizens, with more guards in ports, the metro, public services, ministries, at dams and public utilities. Security was stepped up further at Athens International Airport and flights of light planes, helicopters, crop dusters, flight school planes and other such aircraft have been forbidden. At airports, security measures include careful and repeated searches of passengers and their hand luggage (with only one small piece allowed per passenger); the cockpit doors are locked during flights; security personnel with dogs are on guard at airports, fuel tanks, telecommunications points, power substations and radio beacons.