Greece Appeals to American Tourists to Disregard Reagan Warning With AM-Lebanon-Hijack,Bjt
ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Two senior Greek officials Thursday defended Greece’s airport security and appealed to American tourists to disregard President Reagan’s warning to avoid the Athens Airport.
″We appeal to Americans to ignore the U.S. President’s exhorations and reassure them there is absolutely no danger in Greece and or at Athens Airport, certainly no more than in Detroit or Miami,″ Nikos Skoulas, secretary general of the state-run National Tourist Organization told reporters.
Skoulas said ″an unprecedented smear campaign, mainly from the United States″ threatened to ruin Greece’s tourist industry, the country’s biggest foreign exchange earner.
In Montreal, where the International Air Transport Association is based, an official of the organization said Greece has agreed to cooperate with other airlines on solving security problems at the airport.
Two air pirates hijacked a Trans World Airlines jetliner to Beirut last Friday with 145 passengers aboard, mostly Americans, at the Athens airport. All have been released except 37 passengers and three crew members, who remain hostage in Beirut.
Rodney Wallis, the IATA’s director for security, said the Greek government will now allow airlines in Athens to continue using a second line of electronic screening of passengers and baggage they had set, feeling Greece’s own security was not good enough.
Before the TWA hijacking, the Greek government had been trying to force the airlines to remove that second line of screening, claiming one line was sufficient, Wallis said.
″The second security screening ... program which was to have ended at the end of this month will stay on indefinitely,″ he said, adding the Greeks say they will welcome and work closely with an association security team that will visit the airport next week.
He said a senior Greek official has been appointed to work with the air transport association. Wallis said the special IATA team will ″run a fine- tooth comb″ over the whole operation at Athens airport.
Reagan, at a news conference Tuesday, said Americans should be wary of traveling through Athens airport because of a danger of terrorist action there.
Greece was widely criticized for giving into the hijackers’ demand for the release of their alleged accomplice in exchange for Greek hostages aboard the plane.
Transportation Minister Eva gelos Coloumbis told foreign reporters it was ″unfair″ Greece be held responsible for the hijacking.
″I regret that we’re being held responsible, mainly by the United States, for this hijacking when there were no such complaints in so many terrorist incidents at other airports,″ Coloumbis said.
He claimed security at Athens airport matched controls at other European airports, and said Greece would ask international civil aviation organizations to carry out a worldwide check ″to verify security measures and see if additional ones should be taken.″
Coloumbis said Greece planned to erect a new $70 million perimeter fence around the Athens airport.The high-security fence, to include several watch- towers, will go up in five months, he said.
But the minister made no mention of boosting security at the transit area of the international airport, where the TWA hijackers spent the night before boarding the plane.
Greek police officials have acknowledged since the hijacking that security for transit passengers is lax at Athens airport.
Skoulas said he feared Greece’s tourist industry, expected to earn more than $1.5 billion this year, will be severely hit.
″There have already been a large number of last-minute cancellations hitting hotels, yacht brokers and the cruise-ship sector, where around two- thirds of passengers are Americans,″ he said.
More than 470,000 American tourists came to Greece last year, and U.S, visitors had been expected to top 500,000 this year, according to transportation officials.
A spokeswoman for one of Athens biggest luxury hotels told the Associated Press Thursday that ″more than 1,000 room occupancies have been canceled in the past two days, and business for July will definitely be at least five percent down.″