Powell cancels plan to attend Olympics' closing

Decision follows protest against scheduled visit

August 29, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, citing urgent business at home, has canceled his visit to Athens, Greece, to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, the State Department announced yesterday. An aide to the secretary said Powell did not want to encourage anti-American protests that would distract from the ceremony.

The announcement came after a demonstration in Athens on Friday involving 2,000 people protesting the planned visit disintegrated into a rock-throwing melee.

At least three people were injured, and the police fired tear gas to break up the crowds.

The State Department said that Powell called Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis of Greece on Friday to say that he had urgent business to attend to in Washington, but no particular issue was cited. Powell told the foreign minister that he would visit Greece in October.

Powell "expressed his congratulations to the government and people of Greece for hosting a spectacular, safe and successful Olympics," the State Department said.

A State Department official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, said that Powell was not concerned about security or bad publicity, but that he "didn't want anything untoward and did not want the complications of any visit to distract from the end of a very successful Olympics."

Powell had been scheduled to leave for Athens yesterday. He was scheduled to take part in closing ceremonies today and return tomorrow.

The secretary's visit to Athens would also have coincided with the opening day of the Republican National Convention in New York, but an aide to the secretary said that was not a factor in Powell's decision to cancel his visit.

Powell has said he will not attend the Republican convention because of what aides said is a tradition that foreign policy and national security officials not participate in partisan political events.

In addition to attending the closing ceremony of the Olympics today, Powell was to have met briefly with government officials to discuss developments in Cyprus, where a U.N. plan for reuniting the Greek and Turkish parts of the island was rejected this spring.

The Greek Cypriot president, Tassos Papadopoulos, was in Athens this weekend, but he said he had not planned to meet with Powell.

The anti-American protests Friday were the first such disturbances to occur during the Olympics.

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