One real test for 2004 security

Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said he would not be satisfied with security measures for the 2004 Athens Olympics «until the lights of the Olympic stadium are turned off» and the Athens Games were over. «If you’re asking me if I am pleased, the answer is no,» Chrysochoidis told a conference on preparations for the Games on Wednesday. «I’m never satisfied on these issues until the security measures are tested in action, in real life.» Chrysochoidis, whose ministry is in charge of one of the biggest security operations in recent history, said Greece had not been hesitant to seek outside help, setting up an advisory group with specialists from seven countries. «It is a new institution set up for the first time by an organizing country,» he said at an international conference on 2004 preparations. The group of intelligence and security officers from the USA, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Israel and Australia – nations with Olympic and/or terrorism experience – was already setting up plans for the Athens Games. The Olympic movement has made security a top issue since 11 Israelis were killed during the 1972 Munich Games. The September 11 attacks in the USA have further heightened fears. Chrysochoidis said a hijacking exercise will be held on the Athens International Airport tarmac in September to test all of Greece’s resources. Terrorist threat Greece’s Western allies have long criticized Athens for being lax on terrorism for failing to arrest a single member of the November 17 urban guerrilla group, which has killed 23 Greeks and foreigners since 1975. Chrysochoidis said Greece was cooperating with other nations after the US attacks to fight international terrorism and was sparing no effort to capture the elusive leftist group. «Authorities are making every effort to resolve this issue for our country,» said Chrysochoidis. Although the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has praised Greece’s $600-million security plan as the best the country could come up with, the minister said much needed to be done, especially in educating security officers. «Consider that we must train 50,000 men and women police officers to take over Olympic Games security,» he said. Chrysochoidis stressed that planning was not enough and that intense testing was needed for security measures to be effective and make Greece proud. «All eyes…are, and will be turned, on us until the day the lights at the Olympic stadium are turned off,» he said. «We are responding with serious work, feeling responsible toward the Greek people and the whole world.» Transport a challenge The threat of terrorism aside, the biggest headaches for Athens are transport and accommodation. In a city designed for 800,000 people but home to nearly 5 million, getting Olympic athletes and spectators around is Athens’s greatest challenge, says Spyros Capralos, an executive director of organizing committee Athens 2004. Greek efforts to organize the Games have been dogged by infighting, bureaucracy and delays, and the IOC says transport remains one of its top concerns for 2004. Getting Athenians to leave their more than 2 million cars at home and use public transport along with the 2004 visitors is a Herculean task. «It is evident that Olympic transport represents the biggest challenge in the history of our city,» Capralos added. During the Olympics, traffic is expected to be 50-percent heavier than normal on an average day in the Greek capital, he added. Organizers, who have vowed everyone will use public transport during the Games, plan a suburban railway, an improved bus network, metro extensions, ring roads and a huge bus depot next to the main Olympic village to tackle the problem. But time is running short for many of these projects and some have already been abandoned. The IOC said during a recent inspection visit to Athens that it was disappointed to see two out of three road interchanges on the key Kifissias Avenue – which leads from the city center to the main stadium complex – scrapped from plans. Athens hotel owners’ president Spyros Divanis accused the government and organizers of not doing enough to ensure Greek tourism would receive a major boost from the Games. «While there’s over-activity on the part of the hotel community, the State…seeks sloppy solutions which will not provide the infrastructure needed,» Divanis told an international conference on preparations for the Olympics. He said that hotel owners had already pumped over 500 million euros into revamping and expanding dozens of hotels ahead of the Games. Games organizers and Athens hotel owners have been at odds since last year when the government lifted a 14-year construction ban on luxury hotels in the capital in an effort to create more rooms for International Olympic Committee (IOC) members, official visitors and VIPs. But last week the government scrapped the plan and said more rooms would be created through extensions to existing hotels. (Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos told the conference that «there is no question» of whether rooms would be found for all officials and VIPs.)(Reuters)

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