Following the publication of a particularly scathing commentary where a former State Department and Pentagon official blasts Greece's security measures and warns of an imminent calamity, a Greek embassy official responded that the article was written "in bad faith" and outlined the measures taken by Greece to ensure a safe and successful Games.
In an article published in the Los Angeles Times, the same daily that ran Wayne Merry's commentary, the director of the Press Office of the Greek embassy in Washington Achilleas Paparsenos, said that "despite the doomsayers, we are confident that in 2004 (the year in which the Olympic Games will be held in Greece) millions of visitors to Greece and billions watching on television will enjoy a unique celebration of sport and culture linking the ancient with the modern, a return of the Olympic movement to its roots.
"In bad faith, they portray Greece, one of the safest countries in Europe, a member of the European Union, NATO and a reliable U.S. partner, as a terrorist-afflicted third world country and, three years in advance, they write off the Athens Games as an Olympic tragedy in waiting, even suggesting that they be moved to another venue," he wrote.
He also underlined that the security of athletes, dignitaries and spectators is an issue of top priority for 2004 and the Greek authorities will leave nothing to chance.
"A comprehensive plan for the 2004 Olympic Games, approved by the IOC, delegates responsibility for security to a special Olympic Games security department. This will deploy 50,000 police, army, coast guard and commando units, all equipped with the latest technology, and 1,000 video cameras will keep constant watch from key locations," Mr. Paparsenos stressed.
While Greece drastically improved its performance in many sectors of the economy, it still lags far behind its 14 European Union allies in other key areas, according to a European Commission report containing an account of all the economic and social performances of EU member-states and of future targets, which is to be discussed at the special annual spring summit on the European social agenda to be held in Stockholm in March.
According to the economic and social indicators included in the report, Greece holds the following positions among the 15 member-states:
Sixth place in economic development rates, 14th in the relation between energy consumption and production, last in labor productivity, ninth in inflation, fourth in the annual rates of increase in labor costs, 11th in the public deficit sector, 13th in the public debt sector, last in employment increase rates, seventh in the employment of elderly people (55-64), 14th in unemployment, last in expenditures for education, last in access to the Internet, 11th in high-risk capital investments, 7th in business investments' increase rates, 11th in the cost of telecommunications at home, seventh in the cost of telecommunications abroad and 14th in the effectiveness of social benefits for combating poverty.
A scientific conference on the Balkans, is to be held at Harvard's Center of European Studies on February 9-10, organized by the Kokkalis Program for Southeastern and Central-eastern Europe.
The aim of the conference, which is held for the third consecutive year, is to bring together new researchers dealing in the field of social and political sciences in the Balkans. The conference will deal with issues related to economic reconstruction, public administration and democratisation, the society of citizens and human rights, mass media and democracy, traditional and new matters concerning security, criminality and corruption.
The selection of the 22 participants was conducted following an international competition that drew more than 200 applications.
The annual conference of the representatives of countries participating in the CEDEFOP Study Visits Program will take place in Thessaloniki on February 10-14. The countries are the 15 European Union member states, the 12 candidate for accession countries as well as, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
The goal of the meeting is to review the operation of the program in 2000 and at the same time, plan its future course.
CEDEFOP director Johan van Rens and State Museum of Modern Art director Miltiadis Papanikolaou will formally open the conference that will take place on the grounds of the museum on February 10.
Greek foreign minister Giorgos Papandreou stated that the press reports that refer to the issue of security in Greece in view of the 2004 Olympic Games are exaggerations.
Mr. Papandreou stated that Greece makes coordinated efforts that are being recognized by the whole world and the US government, adding that those efforts are coordinated and essential to tackle terrorism as a phenomenon that is not a Greek but an international one.
He said that the exaggerations that are being heard from time to time coming from foreign journalists are being condemned and in essence they have blown out of proportion an existing problem which Greece is trying to solve.
Acting Greek government spokesman Tilemachos Hitiris gave a strong response to Wayne Merry, former US State Department and Pentagon official, who wrote an article published on "The Weekly Standard" magazine in which he characterizes Athens as the city where terror reins.
Mr. Hitiris characterized Merry as "ridiculous, provocateur, acting in bad faith, untrustworthy and paranoid".
Responding to the question if Mr. Merry's motives have been examined by the Greek government, Mr. Hitiris responded that he is a paranoid. To another question on whether the Greek government will ask for information by the CIA on the occasion of the statements made by Mr. Merry in an interview yesterday with the Athens television station "ALTER" in which he insinuated that he gets his information from the FBI and the CIA, Mr. Hitiris stated that he is unreliable and added that his allegations are ridiculous.
Regarding the statements made by CIA Chief George Tennet, who calls on the Greek authorities to intensify their efforts against terrorism, Mr. Hitiris stated that the Greek government not only speaks about an effort but it materializes it as well. He also underlined that the Olympic Games preparations are the right ones and expressed the government's satisfaction.
To the question when the Greek government will have a contact with the new US government, Mr. Hitiris stated that the timetable is not set by the Greek side and that there will be contacts between the two governments. He also denied that the Greek government has appointed a public relations agency in a move aimed at seeking contacts with the US government.
He concluded by saying that the relations of the Greek government with the new US government are stable and good and there is no reason for concern regarding the stability of those relations.
Greek and Turkish film critics will meet in Alexandroupolis on March 3-5 to exchange views on the art of making films and lay the foundations for future cooperation on culture issues.
The meeting is organized by Alexandroupolis Film Club in cooperation with the Greek Association of Film Critics with the participation of the Turkish Association of Film Critics as well as film directors.
A treasure made up of 14 golden coins dated back to the Byzantine Era (1005-1050 AD) was unearthed during construction works made at the foundations of a building in the city of Thessaloniki.
The treasure will be presented tomorrow and according statements made to MPA by a Byzantine Antiquities Department official, it was discovered on October 14, 2000.
Meanwhile, the excavations made in the region of Ladi in Didimoticho, northeastern Greece, unearthed a nursing bottle, a bronze spoon and a vessel used by a small child of a royal family. The objects were found in a child's tomb dated back to the Roman Era and a small horse was buried next to it.
Greek foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis denied the press reports according to which, the foreign ministry allegedly will appoint an American public relations agency to handle the Greek-US relations, stressing that foreign minister Giorgos Papandreou has not considered such an issue.
However, he admitted that it is common practice for different states around the world to appoint public relations agencies to undertake the promotion of their positions and therefore, such a plan would not have been blameful. He reiterated that Greece's relations with the new US administration are at a very good level and in the near future there will be contacts with its American officials.
Greek foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis avoided to make any comments on the statements made by US officials concerning terrorism in Greece and referred to the statements made yesterday by acting government spokesman Tilemachos Hitiris.
However, he pointed out that the formal statements made by the US government recognize the efforts made by the Greek government against terrorism.
Gains were recorded in the Athens Stock Exchange today. The general index was up by 0.88% at 3.157,52 points, while the volume of transactions was small at 91.7 million Euro or 31.23 billion drachmas.
Of the stocks trading today, 293 recorded gains and just 43 had losses, while the value of 33 stocks remained unchanged.
The responsible agencies of the Greek foreign ministry are working on a text with economic and political proposals for the reconstruction and development of southern Serbia that will be discussed in the General Affairs Council meeting that will be held on February 26. The text is being prepared at the orders of foreign minister Giorgos Papandreou.
Those proposals will also be brought for discussion in the Inter-governmental Conference Summit Meeting on February 22-23 by Greek prime minister Kostas Simitis.
Greek foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis categorically denied that the Greek foreign ministry intervenes in the process for the election of the new Patriarch of Jerusalem.
He said that the policy followed is a policy of principles and it is based on the respect of the Patriarchate's self-administration, adding that its role must be safeguarded by the one who will be elected.
Minister of defense Akis Tsochatzopoulos and parliament deputies Moschos Gikonoglou from the governing socialist party of PASOK, Achilleas Karamanlis from the right-wing main opposition party of New Democracy and Maria Damanakis from the party Coalition of the Left referred to the usefulness of the presence of the Greek force in Kosovo in a joint press conference they gave after their visits to the army camps of "Rigas Fereos" and "Alexander the Great" in Kosovo.
All of them shared the view that the presence of the Greek military force and the International Peacekeeping Force in general will continue for many years to come for as long as there will be no signs for a solution in Kosovo. The minister of defense stated that the normalization pace is slow and blamed the European Union and the international organizations for the fact that the materialization of the Stability Pact program for the reconstruction and the economic development of Kosovo does not move in a satisfactory pace.
On the cost of the Greek military force in Kosovo, Mr. Tsochatzopoulos stated that the 2001 state budget provides that the force will be funded with 21 billion drachmas. On the issue of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, the Greek minister of defense stated that the International Court of Justice in The Hague must keep pace with the Yugoslav Law.
Greek military force commander brigadier Christos Vafiadis gave a special emphasis on the significant change of atmosphere among the Greek soldiers. Specifically, of the 142 soldiers, who had requested to return to Greece as a result of the depleted uranium scare, 48 thought it over and recalled their application. Already, 31 soldiers have arrived in Kosovo from Greece, while 162 are being trained in Thessaloniki and soon they will join the Greek forces in Kosovo. He also said that there are soldiers, who even though they had returned to Greece, now they want to be sent back to Kosovo.
Greek defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, addressing the members of the Greek military force at Rigas Fereos Army Camp near Urosevac in Kosovo, stated that the path followed is the right one for the consolidation of peace, security and stability in Kosovo and in the Balkans in general.
He congratulated the Greek force for its work and referred to the issue that was created concerning the depleted uranium bombs, saying that there was great concern on the likely effects this material could have on people's lives and stressed that the outcome of the scientific investigation conducted by the Greek Atomic Energy Committee in Kosovo was not alarming. He also said that the results of the scientific investigation by the UN international health organization will be out in March.
Mr. Tsochatzopoulos heads a large delegation made up of 25 parliament deputies, 18 from the socialist governing party of PASOK, 6 from the right-wing main opposition party of New Democracy and one from the party Coalition of the Left. Also present is Irini Lambrakis, in charge of the Stability Pact office in Thessaloniki.
Before the visit to Rigas Fereos Army Camp the mission visited the Greek army company which has undertaken the FYROM-Kosovo border control. The defense minister and the parliament deputies will also visit the headquarters of the Greek brigade at the Alexander the Great Army Camp in Kosovo Polje.