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07 February, 2001
The director of the Press Office of the Greek embassy in Washington, Achilles Paparsenos, said in an article published in the Los Angeles Times "despite the doomsayers, we are confident that in 2004 (the year in which the Olympic Games will be held in Greece) millions of visitors to Greece and billions watching on television will enjoy a unique celebration of sport and culture linking the ancient with the modern, a return of the Olympic movement to its roots."
Paparsenos presented facts about Greece's anti-terrorism measures and a special security plan for the Athens 2004 Olympics. Next to his article the newspaper published criticism directed at Greece on the issue of terrorism by a former official of the US embassy in Athens, Wayne Merry, in the same newspaper.
The full text of his article is as follows:
//Welcoming the Olympic Games in 2004 back to their ancient birthplace and to the city where they were revived in 1896 has excited and mobilized the Greek nation.
Everyone fully understands the great challenge of this undertaking and what is at stake. However, some have wondered whether Athens is up to the task, citing construction delays and staff changes.
Others are openly hostile. In bad faith, they portray Greece, one of the safest countries in Europe, a member of the European Union, NATO and a reliable U.S. partner, as a terrorist-afflicted third world country and, three years in advance, they write off the Athens Games as an Olympic tragedy in waiting, even suggesting that they be moved to another location.
What are the facts that should put these doubts to rest?
On the state of Olympic preparations, three-quarters of the facilities are in place and the rest are on schedule. After decisive remedial action taken, under the leadership of Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki and the close personal supervision of Prime Minister Costas Simitis, the Athens 2004 Organization enjoys the publicly stated confidence of the International Olympic Committee.
Terrorism can strike anywhere--in Munich, in Oklahoma City, in Atlanta, at the World Trade Center in New York. Olympic cities that were considered safe have faced terrorist attacks. Others, considered more vulnerable, have proved "the experts" wrong.
Greece has redoubled its efforts in public security, because, like other countries, it has not been immune to the terrorist threat. Over the last 25 years, the domestic terrorist group 17 November has killed 23 Greek and foreign citizens.
Regrettably, despite sustained efforts of successive governments, socialist and conservative, success against this group has been elusive. This is not because of a lack of political will, as is sometimes claimed without any supporting evidence, but because of 17 November's tiny size, sporadic operations and a highly secretive structure that is frustratingly difficult to penetrate.
The assassination last June of the British defense attache, Brig. Stephen Saunders, was a turning point in Greece's determination to eradicate terrorism. A reward of more than $4 million has been offered, confidential hotlines have been established, a public information campaign has been launched, and legislative changes foresee nonjury trials for terrorists and a witness protection program.
Judging from the public outcry and Greek media commentary, the Greek people are outraged by terrorism's toll in terms of human lives destroyed, reputation damaged and national interests compromised. The authorities will not rest until the perpetrators are brought to justice.
Greece has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, as the 12 million tourists who visit the country annually can attest. Security for athletes, officials and spectators is a top priority for 2004. The Greek authorities are leaving nothing to chance. They will build on the experience of many large-scale international athletic events, including the 1997 World Track and Field Championships, held in Athens with complete safety and success.
And, for the 2004 Olympics, that experience will be strengthened by additional security measures, some broadly aimed at public security, others especially designed for the Games.
A comprehensive plan for the 2004 Games, approved by the IOC, delegates responsibility for security to a special Olympic Games security department. This will deploy 50,000 police, army, coast guard and commando units, all equipped with the latest technology, and 1,000 video cameras will keep constant watch from key locations.
Cooperation with law enforcement agencies of other countries has intensified. Greek police officers observed the Sydney security operations in close consultation with their Australian colleagues. Another Greek team will be in Salt Lake City to monitor security at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Last month, Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysohoidis held a two-day brainstorming session in Athens with security officials from the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Australia and Israel. Last September, he signed an agreement with the U.S. on combating organized crime and terrorism.
The FBI has operated an office in Athens for more than 10 years, and Greek counter-terrorism officers are trained in the United States. Greece is also cooperating closely with Scotland Yard and other European law enforcement agencies to prevent and deter trouble from any source. A special force has been set up to tightly control the borders.
Despite the doomsayers, we are confident that in 2004, millions of visitors to Greece and billions watching on television will enjoy a unique celebration of sport and culture linking the ancient with the modern, a return of the Olympic movement to its roots, on a more human and less commercial scale, and, we hope, with an Olympic truce around the world.//
Merry, on his part, criticized the Greek state for incompetence and a complete lack of political will to crack down on terrorism and spoke of the possibility of the 2004 Olympic Games being transferred to another city.
"The clock is ticking toward potential bloody disaster at the Athens Games in 2004, the worst since the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Games in 1972," he said, adding that "most Americans are unaware that Greece has a serious domestic terrorism problem and, worse, a critical counter-terrorism problem."
Referring to the elusive November 17 terrorist organization, he said it is considered "one of the most successful violent political groups in the world."
"In a quarter-century, no terrorist has been arrested or even identified as a suspect, " he added.
"First, the IOC should give the Greek government until the end of 2001 to wipe out 17 November - not more promises of arrests, but arrests. Second, the IOC must insist that other EU governments with serious, modern police forces be directly involved in preparing for and protecting the 2004 Games. If, on December 31, these conditions have not been satisfied, the Games should be moved. Seoul and Los Angeles have been mentioned as viable alternatives," Merry said.
Source: Athens News Agency