Greek Hunters To Help With Olympic Security - For Free
ATHENS, Aug 9 (AFP) - Greece's public order minister, Yiorgos Voulgarakis, on Monday formally accepted an offer from the country's hunters to help -- for free -- with the massive security effort being made for the Olympics.
The hunters will monitor rural venues, where they know the terrain well, for intruders and forest fires, Voulgarakis said after meeting Nikos Papadodimas, head of the hunters' federation, four days before the start of the Games.
The hunters also agreed to put back the start of the hunting season, which usually begins on August 20 -- bang in the middle of the Games -- until after the close of the event on August 29.
"The (public order) ministry decided in June to shorten the hunting period," said Papadodimas.
"They said they didn't want people with rifles around in the countryside. It was reasonable for us to accept this."
The hunting federation's forest guard -- an unarmed, private force which has the right to arrest people -- last month offered its services free of charge to the government to help with Olympic security.
Around 55 members of the forest guard will be on duty during the Games, not only at sports venues such as Marathon Lake, near the venue where rowing events will take place, and the mountain biking venue on Mount Parnitha, but also at Mornos dam and canal, which supply most of Athens' drinking water, said Voulgarakis.
The Athens organisers have pulled out all the stops to ensure the safety at the Games of athletes and officials from 201 visiting countries, as well as spectators and journalists.
On Sunday, the head of the organising committee, Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki, said Athens was poised to implement "the most complete, best manned and most expensive security strategy in Olympic history".
Deputy Culture Minister Fanny Palli-Petralia said on British television on Sunday that security at the Games -- the first summer Olympics since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States -- would cost Greece 1.2 billion dollars (one billion euros).
Athens has spent five times more on security than the organisers of the Sydney Olympics in 2000, making the hunters' free contribution to the effort even more welcome.
Voulgarakis thanked the hunters for volunteering to bolster the security effort.
"This borders on self-sacrifice. It proves that Greeks can work as volunteers, without material incentive," said the minister.
Papadodimas said he hoped the Olympic security deal would have long-term benefits for Greece's hunters, who he said numbered 250,000.
"This cooperation we have with authorities is good. It creates a framework for a more permanent cooperation," he said.
"In Greece, everybody hunts. It's not just a sport for the nobility, like in most of Europe," said Papadodimas.
But Marios Founaris, who runs a bird wildlife reserve on the Greek island of Paros, was cautious about whether the hunters would contribute positively to the Olympic security effort.
Referring to the way the forest guard applied hunting legislation, he said: "All the force checks is what's in its own interest. They care if hunters shoot prey above their quota but if a rare pelican gets shot, no one cares," he lamented.