Originally created 04/27/04

Athens official: Olympic security will help fight Balkan crime



ATHENS, Greece -- Cooperation among Balkan countries to provide Olympic security will help police crack down on trafficking gangs that smuggle people, guns and drugs across the region, Greece's public order minister said Monday.

"Our joint goal is to create a shield that will protect all Balkan countries from organized crime, not just during the Olympics but afterward, too," Giorgos Voulgarakis said.

Voulgarakis met Albanian Public Order Minister Igli Toska as part of a series of consultations with neighboring countries to improve border policing and information sharing.

Greece has increased border patrols and surveillance of immigrant groups leading to the Aug. 13-29 Olympics, amid fears terrorist groups could exploit human smuggling routes.

"We hold identical views on fighting organized crime and terrorism," Toska said.

He said Greece and Albania plan to create several crime fighting task forces made up of officers from both countries.

Athens is spending more than $800 million on Olympic security. More than 50,000 police and soldiers will be deployed, and NATO and the European Union also are expected to provide support.

THE ROOF: There will be a delay of several days before a roof is slid into place over the main Olympic stadium, but deadlines for the project have not changed.

"There are some difficulties that cannot be predicted. ... It also rained for two days, holding up the work," project coordinator Leonidas Kikiras told private Alter television on Monday.

The roof will be the centerpiece of the Olympics, but it also has become a symbol of Athens' serious problems in preparing for the Aug. 13-29 games.

The IOC has said that work on the steel-and-glass roof - designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava for the 75,000-seat stadium - must be finished by the end of June.

IOC overseer Denis Oswald visited the site last week. He said other work was being carried out on the roof to make up for the sliding delay.

"Everything is being prepared so that operation can start over the next the week," Kikiras said, adding that heavy rain or high wind could force another hold-up.

SIDEWALKS: Athens' illegal sidewalk sellers were put on notice Monday: The Olympics might put you out of business.

A special law enforcement team will be formed to chase down street vendors before the games.

"The issue of illegal commerce can no longer be tolerated," Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni said after a meeting at the Public Order Ministry.

In the past decade, hundreds of immigrants have swamped Athens' main commercial squares and streets selling anything from pirated CDs to clothing, leather bags and fishing gear.

Although there are no official records on lost revenues, state officials estimate illegal commerce cost the state millions of dollars every year.

"The issue of illegal commerce is an open wound," Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said.