Demo in Greece Forces Powell To Cancel Trip

Powell pulls out of Athens visit

Washington denies anti-U.S. protests to blame

ATHENS, Greece -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has pulled out of a visit to Athens to attend Sunday's closing ceremonies for the Olympic Games, U.S. officials said.

Washington denied Powell changed plans because of anti-U.S. protests which saw police hurl tear gas Friday at about 1,000 demonstrators heading for the U.S. Embassy in Athens.

On Saturday Greek activists hoisted a massive banner saying "Powell Killer Go Home" on the Acropolis hillside towering over Athens to protest against his planned 24-hour visit. A Greek government source described the use of the site as deplorable.

Later, about 1,500 members of the Greek Communist Party peacefully marched through Athens chanting "Get the Killer Imperialists Out of Greece."

A statement released Saturday by U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell would not attend because of "the press of business in Washington."

During a press briefing Friday, Powell told a reporter he was looking forward to the visit to Athens, but added, "We're still looking at that trip."

Powell called Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis Friday to inform him of his absence.

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

"He proposed visiting Greece in October."

On Friday, riot police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators who took part in a protest against the Powell visit.

About 1,500 anti-globalization demonstrators who took part in the march were prevented from reaching the U.S. Embassy to protest against Powell's trip.

The demonstrators, who scuffled with police in front of the Greek parliament, fought running battles with riot squads trying to stop them reaching the 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 Greek government said Powell told Molyviatis he could not come because of "pressing obligations" and that the two agreed he would visit Greece in the first half of October.

The International Olympic Committee declined to comment on Powell's decision. But an organizer of protests in Athens said it was a victory for the anti-war movement.

"Of course, the cancellation was linked to our protests," Yiannis Sifakakis told Reuters. "This is a huge victory for the anti-war movement which protested by the thousands in the streets of Athens last night.

"It is very clear why he is not coming even if he is trying to come up with excuses. But whenever he should decide to come we will lay on the same welcome," Sifakakis said.

A senior U.S. official hinted that Powell's trip might have caused unspecified difficulties for Greece, which has mounted a major security operation to keep the Olympics safe.

"The Greeks have done a terrific job with the Olympics and the last thing that we want to do is have complications with a trip that might detract from their success," the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Asked what would keep Powell in Washington, State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said: "Among other things, there is much going on in Iraq, especially in Najaf, and in Sudan that requires the secretary close attention."

In Najaf, Shiite fighters left the Imam Ali Mosque Friday and began turning in their weapons after a peace agreement.

Sudan faces a U.N. deadline next week to defuse a humanitarian crisis in its western Darfur region or possibly face sanctions.
Copyright 2004 CNN.