Greece has deployed another 35,000 troops to protect the summer Olympic Games,
with the whole country finally get mobilized for next week's opening.
There are already some 70,000 soldiers and police deployed to protect the
Athens Olympic Games, in what Greek authorities are calling the biggest peacetime
effort ever made by the country's armed forces.
But in a decision made only nine days before the August 13 opening ceremony,
the government decided on Wednesday to bring in another 35,000 troops, mostly
for patrolling duties in Greece's less populated areas away from Athens.
It seems that every street corner in the Greek capital now has is own highly
armed security agent. But they are only the tip of the iceberg. Also on Wednesday,
a navy minesweeper scoured Piraeus harbor for potential explosives. The harbor,
used by thousands every day to escape to the Greek islands, will also be home
to VIPs living on luxury cruise liners during the Games. Chief among them is
former U.S. President George Bush senior, who is leading the American delegation
Despite the strict security measures, which are costing an estimated $1.5
billion, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge insisted that
the Games would still have a party atmosphere.
Mr. Rogge made his comments when he flew into Athens on Wednesday, declaring
that everything was finally ready to the IOC's satisfaction. "I'm sure that
Athens is ready. You know that the IOC has always expressed its confidence
in its Greek friends. We knew that the promises of the organizing committee
and also the government would be fulfilled. I'm very glad to say that that
is the case and that we are heading to a very successful games," he said.
But in Greece, where individual liberties are cherished, some are concerned
that security measures are going too far. A new network of surveillance cameras
has come under particular attack by some campaigners who have spray painted
them to alert passers-by to their presence. A blimp equipped with super sensitive
cameras that hovers over the capital has also left many uncomfortable.
This week, controversy erupted when Mexican television journalists filming
around the Piraeus port were arrested by coast guard officers and, they allege,
taken away and beaten up.
According to one of the reporters, Eduardo Salazar, who filed a law suit
against the coast guard, the officers even threatened to kill the men. "They
tell us that they were going to kill us and that we were going to suffer a
lot," he said.
Despite the uneasiness over security, Athens is beginning to come alive with
the Olympic spirit. So long in preparation, and so plagued by problems, the
city is now waking up to the fact that it will host the greatest sporting event
on the planet in just over a week's time.
Giant civil engineering projects, like roads and the public tramway system
which will link the center of Athens to the coastal Olympic venues, have finally
been completed. Banners hang from newly planted trees, and on the roads, a
new orange line marks out a lane reserved for special Olympic traffic.
Transport difficulties have long been considered one of the great potential
problems that might blight the Games in Athens, infamous for its traffic jams.
But to general surprise, Athenians have respected the Olympic traffic restrictions,
leaving key traffic arteries clear for athletes.
The excitement is building everywhere. And the Greek media are contributing
by filling their schedules with Olympics-related shows and messages from politicians
like the country's prime minister, Costas Karamanlis. "All together, we reached
this point. All together we will achieve our common goal. To organize extraordinary
Olympic Games under the conditions of the maximum possible security," he said.
For Mr. Karamanlis, the Greek government, the Athens organizers and a nation
which has heard of little else for almost seven years, the waiting is almost
over. The mood in Athens now: roll on August 13.