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Greek PM wants work speeded up

Athens: Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis warned his ministers Tuesday to speed up preparations for the 2004 Athens Olympics, adding they might have to resort to “drastic measures”.

While Athens has made up time in the past two years, it is still struggling to meet project deadlines and delivery dates for infrastructure works and sports venues.

“All projects are progressing within a very tight timetable,” government spokesman Telemachos Hytiris quoted Simitis as saying during a cabinet meeting. “I have become very pushy because I repeat myself. The dates for the Games are fixed.”

An International Olympic Committee (IOC) inspection team will visit Athens on November 6. Two years ago the IOC told Athens organisers (ATHOC) to speed up work or risk losing the Games.

Organisers have turned the bustling city of Athens into a large construction site. But several venues and road works are still behind schedule.

Work on converting the former Hellenikon airport site into a multisports complex is in its early stages because of residents’ objections. The same was true for several road projects, Hytiris said.

“These complaints are part of the preparations... (but) we must continue with determination and with drastic measures wherever needed,” he quoted Simitis as saying.

Simitis said state agencies’ red tape, one of the main reasons for delays cited by the IOC, needed to be reduced.

“We must not follow procedures as we do for any common public project. We even must take decisions on a ministerial level wherever necessary to save time.”

Hytiris said it had been agreed that the only qualifying soccer group to be played in Athens in 2004 would use the newly-renovated Rizoupolis ground, this year’s home pitch of Greek champions Olympiakos Piraeus.

The other groups will be played in Thessaloniki, Volos, Heraklion and Patras, with the final set for Rizoupolis or the Olympic stadium.

Government bonds

Greece may issue government bonds to help finance a 6.5 billion euro facelift for Athens before the 2004 Games, a senior finance ministry source said.

The source said the government is assessing different methods of financing the world’s largest sporting event and would prefer not to burden the country’s high public debt.

“Our goal is to avoid having an effect on debt. There are a number of different options we are currently examining. Issuing bonds is among them,” the source said.

Of the total 6.5 billion euros needed for the Games, sources estimate the government will need to raise 4.4 billion euros from either tapping budget revenues or increasing public debt.

Previous plans to pay for the Olympics include running an Athens 2004 nationwide lottery.

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