ATHENS.- Greek News, ANA
US secretary of state Collin Powell has informed Greek foreign minister Petros Molyviatis that he was postponing is visit to Athens this weekend and would not be able to attend the Closing Ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games “due to the press of business in Washington”, according to an announcement by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, which was also confirmed in Athens.
Washington denied Powell changed plans because of anti-U.S. protests which saw police hurl tear gas Friday at about 1,000 demonstrators heading for the U.S. Embassy in Athens.
During a press briefing Friday, Powell told a reporter he was looking forward to the visit to Athens, but added, “We’re still looking at that trip. It’s been a great Olympics. I mean, the Greek people and Government have done a superb job.
The spokesman said Powell had called the foreign minister on Friday and “expressed his congratulations to the government and people of Greece for hosting a spectacular, safe, and successful Olympics” and proposed visiting Greece in October.
In a personal letter to Molyviatis, Powell said he looked forward to their meeting in October to discuss the prospects on various bilateral and multilateral issues, including the association between Europe and a Turkey that was on the road of reforms, the achievement of a Cyprus settlement, the Balkans, and the prospects in Iraq and Afghanistan, on which Greece’s support has been very much appreciated.
He also agreed with Molyviatis to visit Athens in the first half of October, according to a Greek foreign ministry announcement.
According to the contents of the letter, released by the foreign ministry in Greek translation, Powell congratulated the government for succeeding in organising safe and spectacular Games, adding that he knew that he could travel to Greece for the Games with the full conviction that the Athens government had succeeded in creating a secure environment.
Powell said the Greek government and everyone involved deserved gold medals for this achievement, and that all of Greece should be profoundly proud over the international recognition it earned in hosting the Olympic Games.
The State Department chief said he had taken advantage of his holiday and spent the better part of the past week in front of his television set, just like many other Americans, adding that years of planning and hard work by Greece had culminated in the grand event they organised: safe and spectacular Games.
Powell said he would have liked very much to enjoy the Closing Ceremony in person, but added that upon his return to Washington there were issues that demanded his immediate attention, such as the situation in Iraq and Sudan, therefore requiring the postponement of his Athens visit for a few weeks.
However, he added, this postponement would provide both sides with more time to focus on issues of mutual interest, after Greece’s obligations of Olympic hosting had come to an end.
Powell closed the letter by reiterating how very impressed everyone was with the grand success of the Athens Olympic Games.
On Saturday Greek activists hoisted a massive banner saying “Powell Killer Go Home” on the Acropolis hillside towering over Athens to protest against his planned 24-hour visit. A Greek government source described the use of the site as deplorable.
Later, about 1,500 members of the Greek Communist Party peacefully marched through Athens chanting “Get the Killer Imperialists Out of Greece.”
On Friday, riot police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who took part in a protest against the Powell visit.
About 1,500 anti-globalization demonstrators who took part in the march were prevented from reaching the U.S. Embassy to protest against Powell’s trip.
The demonstrators, who scuffled with police in front of the Greek parliament, fought running battles with riot squads trying to stop them reaching the embassy.
Teargas was used when protesters clashed with riot police outside the Greek parliament Friday. The embassy is not near any Olympic venues, but it is near the hotel being used by the International Olympic Committee and located on a major Olympic traffic lane.
The International Olympic Committee declined to comment on Powell’s decision. But an organizer of protests in Athens said it was a victory for the anti-war movement.
“Of course, the cancellation was linked to our protests,” Yiannis Sifakakis told Reuters. “This is a huge victory for the anti-war movement which protested by the thousands in the streets of Athens last night.
“It is very clear why he is not coming even if he is trying to come up with excuses. But whenever he should decide to come we will lay on the same welcome,” Sifakakis said.
According to Reuters, a senior U.S. official hinted that Powell’s trip might have caused unspecified difficulties for Greece, which has mounted a major security operation to keep the Olympics safe.
“The Greeks have done a terrific job with the Olympics and the last thing that we want to do is have complications with a trip that might detract from their success,” the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Asked what would keep Powell in Washington, State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said: “Among other things, there is much going on in Iraq, especially in Najaf, and in Sudan that requires the secretary close attention.”
In Najaf, Shiite fighters left the Imam Ali Mosque Friday and began turning in their weapons after a peace agreement.
Sudan faces a U.N. deadline next week to defuse a humanitarian crisis in its western Darfur region or possibly face sanctions.