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New Greek Government Faces Olympic Challenge

Following Sunday's victory for the Greek conservative party, Greece faces a change in government just months before it hosts the Olympic Games. But will the change be good or bad for the country's troubled preparations?


Athens is about to see the biggest Olympic security drill ever.

Now that the election euphoria for supporters of Greece's victorious New Democracy party has subsided, there's just one goal: Getting everything ready for the start of the Olympic Games in August.

Some political observers prophesied a wave of strike action should the center-right party sweep to power after the 11-year rule of the Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). Others predicted a period of chaos while the new government settled in and got down to business.

But Greece can't afford for either of those things to happen, according to Greek journalist Ambrose Santamouris. "We're at a point where we haven't got a minute to lose," he told Deutsche Welle. "I think people in both parties have realized this, those who are leaving, as well as those who are taking over."

Premier-elect Costas Karamanlis is optimistic about the challenges facing the new and old governments. "Together, united, we'll do our best to make these Olympic games the best and the most secure that have ever taken place," he said. "It's a good opportunity for Greece to show its modern face."

Construction behind schedule

But from any perspective, the challenges facing Greek politicians are daunting. The country's Olympic preparations have been dogged by delays and fears for security. Construction deadlines are slipping away. The main concerns are the construction of a glass and steel roof for the central stadium, a covering for the main swimming pool and plans to widen the route of the marathon race.

Many of the people appointed by the previous socialist government to run projects for the games will likely keep their posts. "The New Democracy won't change basic responsibilities -- just some of the political responsibilites," said Santamouris. "But when it comes to organizational and technical projects, the same people will be in charge."

Karamanlis has named himself culture minister, meaning he'll take on responsibility for most of the Olympic projects. He's placed trusted aides in other top posts for the games. The move is seen in Greece as an attempt by Karamanlis to cut through some of the bureacracy that has been hindering progress on Olympic-related projects. However, he also risks exposing himself and his new cabinet to criticism should plans not run according to schedule.

Unprecedented security

Karamanlis will also be getting a crash-course in the latest international security techniques, as security exercises for the games coincide with his swearing-in on Wednesday. Some 400 U.S. military and other personnel will join 2,000 Greek officers for the exercises, code named "Hercules' Shield."

The drill will be the most comprehensive test of the security network in Athens and other Greek cities hosting Olympic events. The seriousness of the mock threats will increase throughout the two-week session, culminating in an exercise to test "international cooperation on handling threats of very serious and catastrophic scenarios," such as a radiation-spreading "dirty bomb," Greek police spokesman Col. Lefteris Ikonomou told the Associated Press.

The Olympic security preparations cost more than €645 million ($800 million) -- more than three times what it cost to safeguard the Sydney Olympics four years ago. They include more than 50,000 police and soldiers, 1,400 surveillance cameras, and aerial surveillance. There will also be a no-fly zone over Olympic venues.

"We are examining everything at this moment. The issue of the Olympic Games of 2004 cannot be compared with any other Olympics or with what happened in Sydney, Atlanta, or Munich. Then, there was no September 11, 2001," Ikonomou said.

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