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Powell Cancels Athens Visit Citing Busy Schedule - 2004-08-28

Secretary of State Colin Powell has canceled a visit to Greece to attend the closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympics. Greek and U.S. officials say anti-American demonstrations in the Greek capital hours before Mr. Powell's expected arrival played no part in his decision.

The State Department says Mr. Powell's busy schedule made him postpone his trip to Athens. A written statement issued by the Greek Foreign Ministry says Mr. Powell will visit the Greek capital in October.

Organizers of an anti-war, anti-globalization, anti-U.S. foreign policy demonstration that took place Friday night immediately claimed victory, saying their protest had forced the secretary of state to cancel his trip.

But a Greek official who asked not to be identified denied that claim, saying Greece had been informed by Washington that Mr. Powell decided to stay in the United States to deal with events in Iraq and Sudan.

Several hundred demonstrators seeking to reach the American Embassy were dispersed late Friday by police firing tear gas. But, overnight, other activists unfurled a huge banner on a hillside under the Acropolis protesting U.S. policy in Iraq and Washington's support for Israel's policy toward Palestinians.

Greek communists staged a second protest rally Saturday morning, after Mr. Powell had canceled his visit.

Greeks overwhelmingly opposed the war in Iraq and the subsequent occupation of that country by a U.S.-led coalition. Although there has been little overt sign of anti-Americanism during the Olympics, the U.S. basketball and volleyball teams have been fiercely booed during their matches against Greece.

Some Greek news media say Friday's protest march was not aimed solely at Mr. Powell, but also brought together Athenians who are angry at the disruption of their daily life by security measures related to the Olympics.