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Athens Olympics faces local protest

By THOM J. ROSE, UPI Correspondent

WASHINGTON, June 9 (UPI) -- Fear of al-Qaida-style terrorism at this summer's Olympic Games has drawn international attention and funding to Athens, but the often-violent protest of Greek and other far-left activists might pose a more immediate threat.

United Press International has learned that stenciled images of an airplane flying into two buildings have been appearing on buildings around Athens. The unmistakable Sept. 11, 2001, imagery is mixed with something very different, however: the plane's contrail fans out to become a Nike Swoosh and the slogan "Just Do It" appears in large letters below the buildings. It ties high-profile terrorism to the anti-globalization priorities of some Greek radicals.

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The graffiti, which an international security consultant told UPI is the work of Greek autonomous groups, is one sign of the strong left-wing and anarchist opposition to the Olympics.

A makeshift bomb detonated outside an Athens bank May 13 -- 100 days before the start of the games -- is thought to be a product of the same movement. A similar bomb was found nearby on the same day but did not explode.

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Revolutionary Struggle, a local fringe group, has taken responsibility for three earlier May blasts.

"There are some, let's say, marginal views considering the Olympics and commercialized products," Greek Embassy Press Officer Petros Tsarouchis told UPI.

Tsarouchis said dissent is part of any open society, however, and added, "The overwhelming majority of people in Greece support the Olympic games."

Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyiannis told reporters at a Monday news conference in Washington, "We have dealt with our local terrorist question" by imprisoning many important members of the Greek November 17 terror group.

"On security, we are spending $1.2 billion, four times as much as Sydney and over five times what Atlanta spent in 1996," Bakoyiannis said. "We are deploying 70,000 police and military security personnel ... four times more than Sydney."

The United States and other countries have spent millions to reinforce Greek efforts, which include installing expensive equipment to detect radiation at border crossings and creating a massive surveillance system of security cameras mounted around Athens and even on a blimp.

The State Department's consular report on Greece acknowledges Greek progress against November 17. The report asserts the danger is, however, not totally gone.

"Other domestic groups continue to pose a threat to American interests in Greece," the April 28 report reads. "Of special concern are the Greek and international anarchist groups which have targeted U.S. commercial interests with small explosive devices in the past and may continue sporadic attacks and participate in demonstration activity during the 2004 Olympics."

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The report warns that the games are likely to draw protests that could become violent and urges visitors to avoid areas popular with demonstrators.

Tsarouchis said Athens will set up designated protest zones and create secure areas to protect the games.

Still, spectator lodging will be outside the protected sections.

State Department spokesmen told UPI that travel advisories connected to the Olympics would be issued closer to the Aug. 13 start of the games.

Meanwhile, protest planning has already begun.

A Greek anarchist group Web site reads, "The Olympic Games are undesirable for us, but if they will take place, we consider that it is of great importance to express publicly our opposition to choices that worsen our lives, put in question our sense and undermine our future."

The Web site goes on, "We consider that the Olympic Games of 2004 are not only a Greek matter, but an international one. So we call every movement against neoliberal globalization and every militant to consider the Olympic Games of 2004 a place of meeting and demonstration."

Beatrix Beneder of the Austrian branch of the international anti-globalization activist group Attac told UPI her group and its German affiliate have no plans to send protesters to Athens this summer but said other groups might.

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Anna Mitchell of Oxfam International, which is one of three groups pushing the Olympics to require clothing manufactures to guarantee their employees are treated fairly before licensing them to produce Olympics paraphernalia, said Oxfam and the other groups are focusing on direct lobbying of Olympic and industry leaders for the time being.

"I don't know what our plans are over the next few months," she added.

Whatever the number of international protesters who turn out for the games, local groups have already indicated they are primed to demonstrate. Indeed, some of the very measures intended to increase security have inflamed local passions.

Efforts to remove radical squatters have led to an ongoing confrontation and promises of mass protest. Enhanced surveillance, increased police presence and the crackdown on November 17 have sparked further calls for demonstration.

While the extent of the coming unrest remains unknown, it is likely that much of it will stem from groups other than the international terrorists who have been the focus of the most attention until now.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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