- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

ATHENS — Greek authorities are struggling to assuage nagging doubts about their country’s preparedness to stage the Olympic Games in August, some of them of their own making.

Organizers were rattled when Giorgos Souflias, minister of public works in the conservative government elected in March, questioned the state of preparations at Olympic sites around the capital, Athens.

“I still have doubts as to whether we should have undertaken the Olympic Games,” he told a parliamentary committee.

Faced with a barrage of criticism, Mr. Souflias promptly assured the public that “we are working day and night” to finish all projects and that the main Olympic stadium complex will be handed over to the organizers by mid-July.

The organizing team has shrugged off several other critical statements from architects, security specialists and officials in charge of traffic. It points to a “message of confidence” from Denis Oswald of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who said:

“In the past, we had doubts about some of the venues, some of the infrastructure, some of the construction, and I am very happy to report that all these doubts have disappeared.”

Nonetheless, gnawing problems remain, including the rising cost of the Games, which has shattered all estimates, and fears about security in the face of growing terrorism in the nearby Middle East.

Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said the security force for the Games will comprise 70,000 personnel, a 40 percent increase over the 50,000 initially planned.

Already 37,000 officers “know exactly what they are meant to be doing,” Mr. Voulgarakis said after a security conference last week that involved 350 representatives of Interpol, Europol and the 202 nations scheduled to take part in the Olympics.

“The appropriate things are being done, everybody is working hard, they are going to make the safest Games possible,” said Larry M. Buendorf, chief security officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has confirmed that it will provide Airborne Warning and Control System command and control aircraft to support the security apparatus put together by Greece in cooperation with the United States, Israel and five other countries.

The cost of the Games, initially estimated at $5.5 billion, is expected to rise by at least $500 million before preparations are complete, officials said. Security alone will cost almost $1 billion.

The rising cost and delays in the completion of many sites have led to often bitter debates between Olympics organizers and members of the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement, which did the initial planning and had been in charge of preparations until the March election.

Athens municipal officials estimate that half of the city’s population of more than 3 million are planning to leave their homes during the hectic two weeks starting Aug. 13.

With the slogan “all visitors must leave the city with the best impression,” the municipal authorities have renovated 1,500 buildings, repaired 93 miles of access roads, planted 6,500 large trees and made plans to set up 60 information booths staffed by multilingual personnel.

A specially trained team of 150 officials will deal with problems ranging from “uncollected garbage to stray dogs,” the municipality said.

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