- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

All the world will join in celebrating the return in August of the Olympic Games to the country of their birth. And people everywhere will wish to cooperate in making the 2004 Olympics a safe and memorable expression of the Olympic spirit of noble and peaceful competition.

In pursuit of that common goal, Greece is working in close cooperation with many other countries which can add their own ideas, experience and technical assets to our determined security procedures. Those cooperating countries include the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Israel and Spain. We rely especially on American know-how to guarantee, as far as humanly possible, that the 2004 Olympics will be immune to any terrorist threat.

Last week, I had very productive talks in Washington with high administration officials, which focused on Olympic security and bilateral law enforcement cooperation. We found we share a common vision, that the effort is a joint one, and that we are extremely well prepared for the Olympics.

This international cooperative process reinforces our own strenuous effort to prepare and train our human resources — not only to make Athens the center of a unique and safe Olympics, but to give the whole of Greece a share in their celebration.

The security plans for the coming Olympics are different in scope and concept from those for any previous Games. Taking account of the current instability in much of the world we inhabit today, we have worked on many different scenarios and methods to construct an effective guard against any foreseeable threat to the peaceful conduct of the Games.

In addition to the input of international security and technical assets, our meticulous and persistent planning for the safety of the Games is closely linked to very large investments in infrastructures and the purchase of the needed state-of-the-art equipment.

Already budgeted at 650 million euros ($820 million), the final amount spent on these security assets is expected to reach 800 million euros ($1 billion). This is almost 3 times the amount spent on security for the last Olympics in Sydney and sets a new record in the history of the Games.

The security program is surrounded by an information and communication network which will provide continuous round-the-clock data about the Games for the benefit of any interested person or organization throughout the world whose citizens we, in Greece, await with pride and the promise of an unforgettable experience.

Our dedication to security is compatible with the full enjoyment of the occasion. Our security shield will not create a police environment. Rather, it will ensure the unspoiled recollection of the history and message of the Olympics in a demonstration that a small country like Greece can provide meaning and glamour to the values of athletic contest and fraternity.

Intelligence confirms Greece is not a terrorist target. It is a structured and uniquely stable democracy in the Balkans and Southeastern Mediterranean region. Greece also is centrally involved in the effort for peaceful globalization, as symbolized by the ever-growing response to the U.N.- supported Olympic Truce campaign. The Games provide an opportunity for Greek society and the Greek economy to show their dynamism and commitment to success.

The major public works designed for the Olympics will change not only the present but the future profile of our country. The new Athens airport is the most technologically advanced in the region (and has just been named “Airport of the Year” by the British Transport Management Institute). There are also new national motor highways, modernized seaports and many other responses to the country’s long-term needs.

With 45,000 police and all the Armed Forces on the alert, Greece next August will, of course, be the hot place to visit. We will be ready and anxious to be generous hosts and to provide our visitors, surrounded as they will be by the evidence of Greece’s glorious past, with a living and brotherly experience they will not soon forget.

George Floridis is the Greek minister of public order.


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