28 August 2004 -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell unexpectedly cancelled plans to attend tomorrow's closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Athens after anti-U.S. demonstrators marched through the city. Many Greeks had wondered why Powell planned to come, knowing that the presence of any top level U.S. official could prompt protests.
The demonstrations against Powell's planned visit to the Greek capital began yesterday and continued today.
Yesterday, an estimated 1,500 demonstrators took to the streets, taking the opportunity to voice their opinions about U.S. foreign policy concerning Iraq and elsewhere. Riot police used tear gas to disperse some of the protestors. Around 100 people tried to crash through barricades to reach the U.S. embassy before being repelled by police.
Just hours before Powell was due to arrive today, activists from Greece's Communist Party hoisted a giant banner on the Acropolis hillside over Athens saying "Powell Killer Go Home."
The banner was removed after the news spread that Powell was not coming to Athens.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said the anti-U.S. protests played no role in Powell's decision to cancel his trip.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said today that Powell told Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis that "emergency obligations" in Washington would prevent the secretary of state from coming.
The Greek Foreign Ministry said that Powell will instead visit Athens in October.
One protester at today's rally said that demonstrators are happy that Powell won't be coming to Athens: "We are happy that Powell will not come to Athens. We know that Powell will come in October, and we think we know that Greece will send troops to Iraq. We demonstrate here against the politics of the U.S.A. and the EU government, against the wars in Iraq, Yugoslavia, everywhere all over the world."
The International Olympic Committee said it had no comments concerning Powell's decision.