Greece's ex-king sails into a storm

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The Independent Online
FOR disobeying the orders of the Greek government, the former King Constantine of Greece, who is cruising the Aegean Sea with his wife and five children, found himself under naval escort yesterday while Athens tried to decide whether to ban him from the country altogether.

In a climbdown, Constantine, who has been trying the government's patience all week, said a compromise had been reached yesterday under which he has agreed to stay away from two towns in the Peloponnese peninsula, where he retains considerable popular support. In return, two torpedo ships and a C-130 aircraft from the Greek armed forces that have been circling his rented yacht, will leave him alone.

'We have now made an agreement with the government that they withdraw these vessels so I don't feel my children and I are under threat of the gun,' he said. He and his family will stay away away from two towns where he said up to 20,000 people were waiting for him. Greek sources said that large crowds were expected to turn out in the Peleponnese, but that there was a risk of violence from counter demonstrations and that is why the deposed king had been ordered away.

If Constantine was entertaining hopes that his first visit home in 26 years would trigger a spontaneous outburst of emotion in favour of the monarchy, he was badly mistaken. The 53-year-old former king who lives in north London with his Danish wife, Anne-Marie, has been talking about staging a comeback for some time, in spite of the 1974 referendum that abolished the monarchy.

The hostile reaction of the government and media shows that if Constantine's well-publicised holiday was a trial run for getting back into Greek politics in a permanent way, it has been a flop.

He was repeatedly warned by the government to stay away from populated areas of the southern Peloponnese and was banned from travelling to Vergina, a symbolic ancient Greek site. But he ignored the government's warnings and went ashore at the busy holiday island of Spetses, near Athens. His five children spent much of the night at a disco and Constantine himself had to make do with a modest welcome from a handful of people.

The stand-off also persuaded Constantine to say clearly for the first time that he fully accepted the outcome of the 1974 referendum.

'In Greece, there is (now) a presidential democracy which results from a decision by the sovereign people,' he told the Antenna television channel. But as recently as last February he was telling Greek television that he 'never renounced his rights to the Greek throne'.