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In Aftermath of Terrorism, Greece Grapples with Repercussions

Greeks reacted to the events of September 11th with horror at the destruction and slaughter, and compassion for the victims. The government, as well as the opposition New Democracy party, went to great lengths to show support for the U.S. and protect Greece's reputation as a reliable ally and NATO member.  But Greece's international image suffered when hooligans at soccer match (AEK versus Edinburgh) disrupted a commemorative moment of silence, chanted anti-U.S. slogans, and burned an Israeli flag.

The renewed momentum enjoyed by Prime Minister Simitis was stopped in its tracks, as Greeks now faced the impact of a possible worldwide recession.  While Finance Minister Yiannis Papantoniou reassured the nation that the economy remains strong, the ASE suffered dramatic losses and businesses contemplated how to react to cancelled orders and falling profits. Just prior to the attacks, Simitis had announced a major social spending initiative which depended in part on buoyant projections of growth; it remains to be seen what effect the current uncertainty will have on policy.

The Prime Minister also now finds himself under unprecedented pressure to locate and bring to justice members of the elusive terrorist organization November 17th. The group has operated for more than a quarter century, killing 23 people, including British and American diplomats and businessmen, as well as Greek politicians. The failure to catch any of the group's members has led to charges of incompetence and persistent, though hotly denied, rumors of collusion at high levels.

With attention now focused on terrorist threats to large-scale public venues, Simitis has insisted that everything possible will be done, regardless of cost, to insure the safety of the Olympic Games. Greece has already spent $600 million dollars developing a security plan which has earned praise from the IOC.  In the wake of September 11th, however, IOC President Jacques Rogge let it be known that whatever may have been superlative before is no longer adequate. With possible threats now upgraded to include deliberately crashed planes and possible chemical attacks, expenditures for increased security are expected to drive the overall budget well beyond the 1.5 trillion drachmas already earmarked for the 2004 Olympiad.

War Expected to Involve Greece, Enhance Importance of Turkey

As the world waits for the expected U.S. military response, speculation has grown regarding Greece's possible role and the implications of war for both Greece and its traditional regional rival, Turkey.

Greece will most likely provide air corridors for warplanes, in addition to making the Souda Bay base available for warships needing refueling. Meanwhile, a statement released by Turkish Prime Minister Ecevit's office confirmed that Turkey had granted use of its airspace and bases. Turkey is also lending support to the Northern League, a loosely-affiliated group of Afghan rebels seeking to oust the Taliban. While both Greece and Turkey are important to any military undertaking, many perceive a war in the Middle East as likely to enhance the U.S. committment to Turkey.

Continuing economic stagnation and social unrest have generated concern that Islamic fundamentalism could pose a threat within Turkey.  In a recent editorial, the London-based Economist magazine noted that Turkey's most popular politician is former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who leads the country's Islamic party. Erdogan has termed the U.S. and NATO "lackeys" of the United States, and has insisted that secularism is incompatible with Islam. Court rulings and Turkey's military have so far contained fundamentalism-- but continued economic problems and increased volatility in the region could make this task more difficult.

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