Greece allows nations to guard their own leaders at games

Saturday, July 24, 2004

ATHENS Greece has decided to allow some foreign countries to send armed guards to protect their delegations to the Olympic Games.

Greek officials said the foreign security personnel would not merely guard athletes at the August games. Rather, they said, the foreign security personnel would focus on protecting national leaders who plan to attend the Olympics.

Greek officials said Athens has spent $1.2 billion on security for the Olympics, which will comprise 16,000 athletes, Middle East Newsline reported. This was nearly four times the amount spent for the Sydney 2000 Games.

"Leaders, presidents, kings, etc are one thing and athletes are another," Greek Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis said. "Greece is exclusively responsible for the protection and guarding of the athletes."

Voulgarakis said foreign leaders to the games would be protected by their own security personnel. He said the regulations for these visits would be covered by international protocol.

"The leaders of countries have specific protocols that are separate and unrelated to the Olympics," Voulgarakis said on Wednesday. "These are bilateral agreements signed many years ago."

The Greek officials were clarifying an earlier report by the New York Times that American, Israeli and possibly British security officers would be allowed to carry weapons at the Olympics. The newspaper said Greece has approved the deployment of 400 U.S. Special Forces troops as well as Israeli and possibly British security officers for the games. The U.S. troops will come under NATO sponsorship.

Britain, Israel and the United States have been the most active members of a seven-nation Olympic security advisory team. Greece plans to deploy between 50,000 and 70,000 soldiers, police officers and other personnel for the Olympics.

Officials said Greek authorities have determined that the most likely threat was from anarchists. On Thursday, two firebombs were hurled at a Culture Ministry building in Athens. Nobody was injured.

Publicly, Greece, citing a constitutional ban against foreigners carrying weapons in the country, has insisted that its authorities would solely protect national Olympic squads. But officials acknowledged heavy U.S. pressure and said exceptions were being made for Israel and the United States under the guise of protecting visiting dignitaries. The father of President George Bush, who served as president from 1989 to 1992, was expected to attend the Olympics.

The officials cited the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 in which 14 countries provided their own security in wake of the Al Qaida suicide strikes on New York and Washington. They also cited Israel, which has protected its Olympic squad since the Fatah-sponsored Black September group killed 11 Israelis at the Munich games in 1972. Israel was expected to deploy at least 25 security guards for the August games.

"As far as the [Olympic] games are concerned it is clear that Greek authorities have the exclusive responsibility, and they have done everything humanly possible for the games to be held in a safe and peaceful environment," Voulgarakis said.

The New York Times said the United States will send the Special Forces and the FBI to the Olympics in Athens. About 100 U.S. agents from the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service will serve as bodyguards for American athletes and dignitaries. Greek officers would accompany the U.S. armed personnel.

The FBI also was allowed to send a hostage rescue team and analysts in an effort to monitor any attack. The U.S. Navy plans to deploy divers to search for mines in the port of Piraeus, where ships transporting foreign dignitaries will dock.

"Greece has been working closely with NATO, and NATO has been, to the extent it's able, responding to the government of Greece's requests and thoughts and suggestions," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Wednesday. "And they've been in close cooperation for many, many, many weeks, and one has to believe that they've taken the appropriate steps. My understanding is that Greece has constitution and laws that affect various aspects ... and that they have appropriately addressed it from a NATO standpoint, which is permissible from a practical, legal and policy standpoint in their country."

The New York Times said Greece and the United States were discussing guidelines for the movement of U.S. security guards and troops. They included areas of operation, type of weaponry and the use of firearms. A meeting by the security advisory scheduled for this week was canceled.

Greek officials acknowledged most of the details of the New York Times article. They said the government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanalis quietly agreed to allow Israel and the United States to deploy armed guards because of delays in the operation of security systems as well as concern that they and other countries would boycott the event.

"In the end, this will come down to a massive ring around the Olympic Village and a heavy security cordon inside the facility," a Greek official said. "We admit there are holes in security and we will need other countries to help us."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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