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Olympic Jitters

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Mike ThomsonMike Thomson reports from Athens.
I was inside a police security cordon just a few feet away from both the Greek and Turkish Prime Ministers when a voice shouted "Hey!, who are you? What are you doing there!?"

Police barricade

Greek police man the barricades for the Turkish PM's visit.
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Police on guard

Greek officers show their presence on duty.
Greek Parliament

Greece's Parliament building.
Evzone guard

A Macedonian Evzone guard stands outside the Presidential palace.
George Momferatos

George Momferatos says the political will to tackle terrorists has been lacking in the past.
Amonia Square

Amonia Square in central Athens.
It didn’t come from the police, who were busy holding crowds of on-lookers back behind a line of fluorescent orange tape. They had taken little notice of me as I strolled past their motorbikes and flashing sirens towards the waiting Prime Ministerial limos near the Parliament building. The owner of the yell was a 33 year-old commuter programmer, a mere member of the crowd, who had been watching my progress with alarm.

"Why", he asked the lines of police officers, "aren’t you stopping this man or at least asking for his identity?" Their response was to signal to me to move my microphone away from their police radios. When I complied, they lost interest in me again. But, Peter Orfanides, the watching man in the crowd, didn’t. Having just returning from working in Madrid, where he witnessed the worst that terrorists can do, he leant over the police tickertape and declared:

"You were less than five metres from the Greek and Turkish Prime Minsters. You could have been anyone with a gun. You could have been a suicide attacker. Anything was possible. Yet you went through with no checks at all and without any ID or badges!"

This is one man who is not the least bit optimistic about the prospects of police here providing adequate security for the coming Olympic Games. He’s now alone in this jittery city. Only a few days ago three bombs exploded outside an Athens police station and as yet, nobody has been caught. With the opening here of the biggest sporting event in the world getting closer by the minute, it is not surprising that nerves are fraying in some quarters.

However, the Greek government is keen to quash any fears that the recent blasts had anything to do with Al-Qaeda, or any other large scale terrorist group. Minister for Public Order, George Voulgarakis had this to say:

"Isolated actions like this one are not related to the Olympic Games and certainly they’re not capable in any way to influence them from taking place here in Athens in a secure environment."

Some experts agree with him, as far as the probable identity of the bombers is concerned anyway. Dr Thanos Dokos, an international security expert at the city’s Hellenic Foundation (a private think tank) believes that the blasts are likely to have been the work of a little known extremist left-wing group here called, the ELA. Four of their members are currently on trial in Athens:

"Every bit of information from the police authorities points in that direction. Now, we didn’t have any statement from the organisation claiming that they were the perpetrators of these attacks but it does look very likely."

Not that this group is thought to be anything like as dangerous as November 17, the terrorist group that claimed many lives in Greece in a series of assassinations over several decades. One of the last of which was the British Diplomat, Brigadier Stephen Saunders who was shot dead by two men on a motorbike in June 2000. Thankfully, though, the group’s leading members have since been arrested and jailed.

None the less, Greek police have been heavily criticised for a series of blunders and inefficiencies over the years that have called many to question their ability to control extremists groups. Some suspect that they are not helped by a society that tends to be anti-American and anti-establishment. George Momferatos, who was a teenager when his father, Nicos, was murdered by November 17, is bitter about the attitude of many Greeks following the killing in 1985:

"There was not strong political will to get his killers mainly because Greek society had also a kind of sympathy for them. I mean a big chunk of Greek society saw these guys as vigilantes, taking care of evils and putting things to justice and hence there was a kind of support, let’s say, for what they were doing."

Perhaps largely as a result of this Mr Momferatos, had to wait 17 years until the men were finally brought to trial after police finally found people willing to give sufficient evidence in court.
 
However, with so much left to do to get the Olympic complex finished in time for the games in August most of the anxiety has tended to centre more on whether or not the organisers will be able to beat the clock. Many outsiders may be sceptical but the country’s Minister of Information, Panos Leivados, is bullish:

"I am confident about that. We’re within deadlines and everybody’s statements, including those of the International Olympic Committee, agree that we are on schedule."


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