Firebombing near Athens raises concerns

Posted: Friday, February 27, 2004

ATHENS, Greece As Greek organizers sought to reassure the world the Athens Games will be safe, anti-Olympic activists firebombed two government vehicles Thursday to coincide with a major meeting of IOC officials.

Two environment ministry trucks were set ablaze by cooking gas canisters soaked in gasoline, causing an estimated $37,000 in damages, fire officials said.

A group calling itself ''Phevos and Athena'' the names of the Olympic mascots said in a call to an Athens newspaper the attack was tied to the meetings of the IOC and the Association of National Olympic Committees.

''This is a welcome message to the members of the International Olympic Committee,'' the caller told the Athens newspaper.

The attack was in the western suburb of Ilion, about 6 miles from the central Athens hotel where the Olympic meetings are taking place.

In a speech to delegates from 202 national Olympic committees, Athens organizing chief Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki said protecting the games is Greece's ''paramount concern.''

''The Greek state and our allies are working together to create a seamless security web to ensure the games are safe as well as historic,'' she said.

The Aug. 13-29 Olympics are the first Summer Games since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Greece has budgeted more that $800 million for security, more than three times what was spent to make the 2000 Sydney Games safe.

International terrorism is not the only worry. Self-proclaimed local anarchist groups have carried out hundreds of arson attacks in recent years, a trend that is causing concern as the games approach.

Although Athens has made up much of the time it lost to delays, a number of construction problems remain.

''Less than six months before the games, we can only repeat that there is still a lot to do,'' said Denis Oswald, the IOC coordinator for Athens.

''We are confident that the remaining time will be fully used to make sure that when you come back to Greece in August this year you will find everything ready,'' he told Olympic delegates.

Angelopoulos-Daskalaki promised that would be the case.

''With just 169 days left, time is short, but our confidence is growing,'' she said. ''I can promise when you lead your national teams to Athens, Athens will be ready for you.''

One key construction problem involves the giant steel-and-glass roof over the main Olympic stadium. It's unclear if there is enough time to secure two large arches spanning the stadium so the rest of the roof can be built.

Costas Cartalis, the Greek general secretary responsible for the Olympics, said there will be a technical test of the roof in May and the entire project should be completed by the end of June.

Organizers are also facing problems with a roof to cover the main outdoor swimming pool. Greek officials said the planned design cannot be built and are looking at alternative plans.

In other developments:

The Japanese Olympic Committee said it will donate uniforms and sports equipment and help train Iraqi athletes for the Athens Games. The new Iraqi Olympic Committee is expected to be granted official recognition by the IOC executive board Friday, clearing the way for as many as two dozen Iraqi athletes to compete under their national flag in Athens.

On Saturday, the IOC will consider recommendations to allow transsexuals to compete in the Olympics and to remove three gold medals from two cross-country skiers who failed drug tests at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The IOC's legal commission proposed that German-born Johann Muehlegg of Spain and Russia's Olga Danilova be disqualified from all the races they competed in during the 2002 games, IOC vice president Thomas Bach said.

That means Muehlegg, previously stripped of one of three gold medals, would lose the other two. Danilova would forfeit her single gold.

The IOC disqualified the pair only from the two races where they had positive tests. They were allowed to keep medals from earlier events because they had passed drug tests after those races.

But the Court of Arbitration for Sport, acting on appeals by Norway and Canada, ruled in December that the skiers should be stripped of all their medals from the games.

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