Police in Athens have fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators who were trying to march on the American Embassy to protest the upcoming visit of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Several of the demonstrators carried banners protesting against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
The march started out peacefully, but as the demonstrators tried to proceed down one of Athens' major thoroughfares to the embassy, they were blocked by police in riot gear.
The Greek government had made clear before the demonstration that it would allow citizens to express their feelings but would not tolerate any disorder. Officials were especially concerned that the demonstrators might try to block special traffic lanes set aside for vehicles carrying Olympic athletes and visiting dignitaries.
Mr. Powell, who was to arrive in Athens on Saturday, was scheduled to hold meetings with Greek leaders and attend the closing ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games on Sunday.
Protesters bearing banners reading "Powell, get out" scuffled with police in front of the Greek Parliament building. As the demonstrators tried to push their way through the police cordon, police responded by firing tear gas. When the fumes began to spread, the demonstrators appeared to disperse. Police said no arrests were made.
Greece has been anxious to show the world during the Olympics that Athens is safe from any kind of security threat. Under pressure from the United States and other countries, it invested in a multi-million-dollar high-technology security system that has placed more than 1,000 cameras and other sensors throughout the city to detect suspicious movements. Many Greeks say the security system, installed by a U.S.-led consortium, was unnecessary and too costly. Greece has also mobilized 70,000 police and military personnel to safeguard the Games.
Greeks, who lived through a harsh military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974, are jealous of their civil liberties and their right to protest. According to public opinion surveys, most Greeks are opposed to U.S. foreign policy, especially the invasion of Iraq and what they perceive as Washington's backing of Israel's oppression of Palestinians.
Greece's communist party says it will stage another anti-Powell demonstration on Saturday.