Spanner thrown in 2004 works

The mayor of a southern Athens seaside suburb yesterday called for a local referendum on the construction of venues for the 2004 Athens Olympics, following increasing local opposition to the project. A multi-sports complex and a tramway to facilitate transportation during the Games are to be built in the Palaio Faliron area. Some residents fear tramway tracks along the coastline could clog already busy streets and hinder access to beaches. The multi-sports complex – which is to house boxing, tae kwon do and handball preliminaries – will include two stadiums. Residents complain their area will be too crowded, and want one stadium relocated to the site of the old airport, where many other venues have been moved. Palaio Faliron Mayor Dimitris Kapsanis said he would investigate how widespread opposition to the projects is in his neighborhood. «We are examining how we can have a referendum,» Kapsanis said, although he admitted he is personally in favor of the Olympic projects. Such a vote would not have any legal repercussions on the construction of the tramway or the sports complex, but local opposition could hamper the already delayed projects. Protesters have said they could refer the issue to the country’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, and to the European Union justice system in an attempt to stop construction. Frequent opposition to Olympic projects in various areas by residents who organize street protests or appeal to courts for injunctions has increased as organizers struggle to make up for lengthy delays. Dennis Oswald, International Olympic Committee overseer for Athens’s preparations, has said he is distressed about government efforts in transportation and accommodation. Palaio Faliron is one of several Athens areas where residents are protesting at Olympics projects. Many want to stop works spanning the already congested capital, home to nearly half the country’s 11 million people. Kapsanis admitted there are difficulties in constructing the tramway, such as some streets being too narrow to create an extra lane. But studies are being carried out to work around the problems, he said. Currently in the technical study stage, construction of the tramway is due to begin next month and be completed by April 2004 at a cost of 340 million euros ($300 million), said Constantinos Yiotopoulos, board member of the state-controlled company Tramway SA, which is overseeing the project. Greek-Italian consortium Terna-Impregilo has been awarded the construction contract. Yiotopoulos insisted the tram is environmentally safe. «There are some people who have the wrong impression. .. that it will create a problem for them,» Yiotopoulos said. «They will be convinced quickly that they were wrong in their estimates.» Athens 2004 organizers have said venues are designed to improve neighborhoods. «What we have worked hard to do, is to design venues that improve and revitalize the areas in which they are built for all of the citizens of Athens,» Spyros Kapralos, an executive director of Athens 2004, has said.

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