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Security for Olympics Successful, Greek Defense Minister Says - 2004-08-20

Greece's defense minister says his country's security preparations for the Athens Olympics have been so successful that it is now in a position to advise China, the host of the 2008 Summer Games, on how to avoid terrorist attacks. But the minister says Greece has no intention of lowering its guard until the Games are over.

The first week of the Games have gone by without incident, and Greek Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos is feeling a lot easier than he did a few weeks ago. That was when western security experts and the international news media were warning that the delay in completing Athens' Olympic structures was hindering the ability to test security systems at the installations.

At a luncheon in his office for foreign correspondents, the minister said Greece had done everything possible to stage the safest possible Olympics in a new environment, shaped by the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

"All the Olympic Games that will be organized in the future, they will be having security as the main focus of consideration, and that will be the model for the future organization of the Olympic Games," he said.

Mr. Spiliotopoulos says a succession of pre-Olympic exercises allowed institutions as different as the military and police, the electric power company and hospitals, among others, to cooperate as they never have before. He says the goal was to prepare for what he calls a worst-case scenario, a deadly attack that could cause thousands of casualties.

"We had to take into consideration that the security environment today is very unpredictable," he added. "That means you don't know when, how, where from, and from whom there will be any action, and against whom. That's why you have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. So we spent a lot of money, because we had in our mind the worst-case scenario."

The minister says Greece is spending $1.2 billion on security for the Games. That's less than private estimates, but still four times as much as Australia spent for the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. Greece has been advised by a platoon of security experts from seven countries, including the United States, Australia and Israel, to help it direct operations. Mr. Spiliotopoulos says Greece is now confident that it can help China with security preparations for the 2008 Games.

"We have an invitation from China for some Greeks that are engaged, involved [in security preparations] to go there and advise [in] training," he explained. "So, next time, [there] will be eight advisory countries to China."

But Mr. Spiliotopoulos says that, even though everything has gone smoothly so far, Greece has no intention of letting its guard down, until the Olympics and the Para-Olympics for handicapped people, which will follow the Games themselves, are over at the end of September. Nobody is relaxing, he says. Nobody is being complacent.