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Greek Olympic Games Head Into Crisis

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Olympic preparations were in

 

crisis Wednesday after revelations the main stadium would not

be ready until less than a month before the Games start and

disintegration of political party unity supporting the event.

With a storm also gathering about calling in NATO forces to

protect the Games from possible attacks, celebration of the

modern homecoming of the Olympics in August after more than a

century was increasingly pushed into the background.

The trigger for the crisis -- a week before the lighting of

the Olympic flame at the ancient home of the Olympics in

Olympia on March 25 -- was the election of a conservative

government 10 days ago which ended a decade of socialist rule

and exposed long suspected delays in preparations.

Al Qaeda links to train bombings in Madrid also added

strains to International Olympic Committee (IOC) demands for

"tough decisions" in the next two weeks to ensure the Games

went ahead at standards the world had come to expect.

Greece has budgeted nearly one billion dollars, three times

the amount spent on the 2000 Sydney Games, to protect the

Athens Olympics but some Greek newspaper questioned whether

inviting NATO to help would make it a bigger target.

"This decision upgrades the country's security arrangements

against international terrorism but it also turns Greece into

an attractive first-rate target for al Qaeda," the Ta Nea

newspaper said this week.

FALLING BEHIND

In a sign of how far behind Greece has fallen, the builder

of the main stadium said the venue would not be ready until

July 20 -- three weeks before the August 13 opening ceremony.

Train and tram projects to help ease notorious traffic

congestion in Athens have also come under fire from

conservatives.

Transport Minister Michalis Liapis has ordered work around the clock to make up for lost time.

"At today's pace, there is not enough time to finish the project for the Olympics," Liapis said.

In what was an end of an all-party Olympic truce on staging

the Games, former Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos told

reporters conservatives were exaggerating problems over

preparations for the Games at the expense of Greece's

international credibility and its key tourism industry.

Venizelos' words carried weight because socialists are

closely linked to union members like construction workers who

ultimately hold the fate of the Games in their hands by not

joining strikes that could delay building work.

The delay in work on the main stadium until July 20 has

major knock-on effects for security and the staging of opening

and closing ceremonies which take weeks of rehearsal.

It also means a June athletics test event at the stadium will take place while work is still in progress.

"It (Olympic stadium) will be finished, along with the

overlays, by July 20," Dimitris Kalitzatzis, managing director

of constructor Aktor, told reporters.

The biggest concern is a 150-million-euro glass dome over

the stadium that the IOC does not believe is even necessary but

Athens organizers regard as the event's landmark building.

A less flamboyant, but equally needed, roof over the

swimming pool to protect competitors from Greece's searing

temperatures in August is also behind schedule.

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