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Greece asks nato for standby force at olympics

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Greece Asks NATO for Standby Force Outside Greece

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Greece has asked NATO to put hundreds of crack troops on standby in case of a terrorist attack during the Olympics, but they will not be based on Greek soil, Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis said Thursday.

Voulgarakis, who is in overall charge of Olympic security, said the troops would be on alert in case of a "World War Three" type situation developing.

"They will be outside Greece, in some third country. Maybe Germany, maybe some other country ready to come in," Voulgarakis told Greece's Alpha television.

"Of course these are extreme measures and essentially we're talking about a case of World War Three."

The Greeks are sensitive about the presence of foreign troops in their country, which won independence after centuries of occupation by the Ottoman Turks.

There was outrage in Athens Thursday after the New York Times reported that some 400 U.S. troops would be sent -- under NATO command -- to the country during the August 13 to 29 games to protect American athletes and dignitaries.

Diplomats said Greece's request for NATO-led counter-terrorist troops to be on standby outside the country was separate from a possible bilateral deal with Washington under which American security officers may protect U.S. citizens on Greek soil.

Voulgarakis said there was no need for the troops to be based in Greece because they could be in Athens from a nearby country in several hours.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns made it clear after a meeting with his counterparts in the 26-nation alliance on Thursday that the request for the troops had come from Greece, not because of pressure from Washington.

"NATO is considering support to Greece for the Olympic games," he told reporters. "NATO is responding to a specific request from Greece. The U.S. fully supports and expects a positive response from NATO to assist our ally Greece."

A NATO official said she expected a decision on Greece's request for "over-the-horizon" forces, which are likely to be mostly or even entirely American, to be taken within the next few days.

NATO member Greece already has assurances that the alliance will assist in air and sea patrols and provide specialist troops to deal with a potential nuclear, chemical or biological attack.

Greece has drawn up the most expensive ever security plan to guard the first summer Olympics since the September 11, 2001 suicide attacks on the United States.

The estimated cost of 1.0 billion euros is more than three times the amount spent to protect the Sydney 2000 Games.

Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained In this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.

07/23/2004 00:34

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