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Athens Security Preparations Enter Final Phase - 2004-08-06

The government of Greece has begun the final phase of security preparations for the upcoming Olympic Games.

At the Olympic venue for canoe and kayak competition in Athens, a final security sweep was under way. Dogs sniffed for bombs. Soldiers looked for anything suspicious above ground. Divers searched underwater. Security officers gave their final seal of approval, and in the distance Patriot missiles on loan from the United States stood at the ready.

These precautions are part of an elaborate security plan developed for the first summer Olympics to be held since the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

"Ever since September 11, 2001, we have intensified our efforts and changed our focus to adjust to the international environment," explained Eleftherios Ikonomou, the spokesperson for the Greece Ministry of Public Order. "Right now we are in the phase where we have deployed over 700,000 men for the security of the games, and we have spent one billon Euros."

Some in Greece say the growing security costs, in addition to the other costs involved in hosting the Olympics, have become too high a price to pay. "In fact I think Greece should not have taken on the challenge of organizing the Olympics," said Vasilis Moulopoulos, chief editor of the Athens newspaper VIMA. "There is no exact estimate. It is between 6 and 10 billion Euros, which in my opinion is way too much for a country like Greece, which is a small country."

Mr. Moulopoulos conceded that for the most part, the money is being used properly. Police and military have increased their ability to respond to possible terrorist attacks, including biological and chemical threats.

Just as important, said Mr. Ikonomou, has been the Ministry of Public Order's increased efforts to prevent a terrorist attack through increased surveillance and international cooperation. "We believe, in fact, that international terrorism needs to be answered by international cooperation. We have encompassed this into our security planning," added Mr. Ikonomou. "We have developed international cooperation to a maximum degree, and we have a very good network of information exchange and intelligence."

VIMA editor Vasilis Moulopoulos does question the validity of some high tech purchases like the balloon equipped with cameras to monitor the city from the sky. The balloon, he said, will not be able to fly during the windy days of August, and after the Olympics the bill for these expenses will come due. "The citizens of Greece will bear the cost, and it is estimated 3,000 Euros for each Greek citizen," he added.

But with the Olympics Games fast approaching, the government of Greece wants the world to know that no price is too high to protect the public.