- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

NICOSIA, Greece — Concern is growing in Greece after it received a two-week deadline to solve problems besetting preparations for the Olympics in August.

It is no longer only a question of unfinished projects. Officials must deal with the possibility of a major terrorist attack with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, according to sources.

After the bombings in Madrid last week that killed 202 persons and injured more than a thousand, Greece slowly is moving toward what one official described as a “virtual war footing.”

The operation suddenly has become a major test and challenge to the new conservative government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

Rear Adm. Christos Delimichalis, head of the Greek Coast Guard, has clamped extra security measures on all ports on the mainland and the inhabited islands. Several thousand troops, including a U.S. contingent of more than 500, are maneuvering in a secret protection exercise dubbed “Hercules Shield.”

And, abandoning the earlier optimistic attitude that “we can handle it alone,” Greece has appealed for a protective umbrella from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO said on Tuesday that it would help guard the Games.

The decision has a double implication: It bolsters the still-incomplete security preparations and enables Greece to share the fallout in the event of a disaster.

The two-week deadline to move the preparations on the right track was imposed earlier this week by Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, after a brief visit to Athens.

“While a lot remains to be done, there is still time for the preparations to be successfully concluded if all energies are mobilized and focused in the same direction,” Mr. Rogge said.

“We are working even harder. We are not relaxing,” said Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, head of the Athens 2004 Organizing Committee.

Complicating the work is the departure of several experts after the elections this month, which brought the conservative New Democracy Party to power. The new prime minister, Mr. Karamanlis, took charge of the Culture Ministry, which supervises the Olympic preparations.

From the security point of view, the electronic command post is yet to be completed. Greece has budgeted more than $800 million on the security aspect, hoping to deploy 40,000 troops, 10,000 policemen and early-warning planes and teams specialized in biological and chemical warfare.

Seven countries, including the United States, are involved in the security preparations.

At stake is not only the pride of an ancient nation known as “the cradle of civilization,” but also an investment of more than $5 billion, which has transformed parts of Athens and its vicinity into hives of often chaotic activity.

Thus, 148 days before the official start of the games, the organizers have issued a list of “problem areas,” which include a lack of roofs over the main Olympic stadium and the swimming pool, delayed landscaping of areas surrounding the sites of various competitions, and failure to complete a suburban railway line and tramway network.

The organizers have yet to finalize a master plan on how to keep the Athens traffic moving while securing safe passage for Olympic teams crisscrossing the city from one venue to another.

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