Amnesty for Athens despite major delays

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The Independent Online

Major delays still plague preparations for the Athens 2004 Olympics, but Greece no longer faces the danger of losing the games, according to a senior Olympic official.

Jacques Rogge, head of the IOC panel that oversees the coordination of the games, said more progress is needed despite organisational changes made by the Greek government to speed up preparations.

"We have identified good progress in many fields but there are delays and major delays," Rogge said.

Last month the IOC president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, sharply criticised delays in Athens' preparations and called for "drastic changes".

Fearing that Greece could lose the Olympics, the government responded by replacing the president of the local organising committee with Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, the woman widely credited with bringing the Olympics to Athens.

"I think we will see that there are things being done that will move it forward," said Costas Bakouris, the managing director of the organising committee.

But Costas Caramanlishas, the leader of the main opposition party, demanded an emergency debate on Olympic preparations. "There have been so many delays in carrying out Olympic works that even the hosting of the 2004 Olympic games has been placed in danger," he said.

Rogge was meeting with local organisers at a secluded seaside resort as part of a three-day inspection visit. Rogge said two top priorities for Athens are finding accommodation for tens of thousands of visitors, and hiring management staff.