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More than 500 riot police in place

8/28/2004

ATHENS, Greece -- Police used tear gas Friday night to
disperse more than 2,000 demonstrators who lit fires, smashed
windows and beat up journalists while marching through downtown
Athens to protest the weekend visit of Secretary of State Colin
Powell.

The demonstrators, who scuffled with police in front of the
Parliament, fought running battles with riot squads trying to
prevent them from reaching the U.S. Embassy. 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 protesters shouted slogans against the U.S.-led occupation
of Iraq.

Powell was expected to arrive Saturday to meet Premier Costas
Caramanlis and attend the closing ceremony of the Athens Olympics
on Sunday night.

Earlier, hundreds of riot police with shields prevented the
protesters from heading toward the embassy, and the two sides faced
off in front of the Greek Parliament building.

The protesters marched in front of Athens University, beating
drums, spraying graffiti on the walls and unfurling banners
criticizing President Bush.

"Powell is the man who peddled Bush's lies on Iraq," said
protest organizer, Yiannis Sifahakis. "He is a murderer and we
don't want him here."

In Washington, deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said
only that officials were aware of protest plans and that: "We are
committed to visiting our Greek friends and sharing in this very
important occasion."

Some of the demonstrators shouted slogans in English, taking
advantage of the international TV crews covering the event. They
called on passers-by to join them on a march to the U.S. Embassy.

Among those who joined in before the violence broke out was
Andrea Murray, 22, who graduated from Duke University in North
Carolina. She said she was looking for Athens' National Museum and
instead found the demonstration.

"I found this and I thought, like wow! I am participating
because I am American and I want Greeks to know that not all
Americans are drones or idiots," Murray said.

A spectacular, moonlit Acropolis served as a backdrop to more
than 500 riot police who were positioned in the central Syntagma
Square in front of the Parliament building and elsewhere in central
Athens.

One Olympics volunteer in the trademark Athens 2004 polo shirt
and shorts held up a sign that read: "Any volunteers against U.S.
policy?"

Another demonstration by 200 people in Thessaloniki, a northern
port and Greece's second-largest city, dispersed peacefully after
protesters marched by the U.S. consulate to complain about Powell's
visit.

Greece's top law enforcement official said the demonstrators had
a right to protest but asked them not to cause any trouble.

"We organized games in an environment of security and
discretion. Everyone recognizes this," Public Order Minister
Giorgos Voulgarakis said. "I want to believe that the events that
have been planned will respect what with great effort all Greeks
have accomplished."

Some Greeks worried that Powell's visit could destroy the
festive atmosphere that has been present in Syntagma Square and the
rest of the capital in recent days.

"I hope it won't spoil the party because the city is buzzing
and everyone's pro-Olympics," said Marissa Daras, 26, a human
resources specialist, as she walked through the square.

The right to demonstrate is cherished by Greeks, following harsh
restrictions imposed during a 1967-74 military dictatorship.
Protest groups have said they would oppose any police attempt to
prevent them from marching on the U.S. Embassy.

Greece's small but influential Communist Party also said it was
organizing a protest march on Saturday from central Athens to the
embassy.