Clinton Says U.S. Did Not Support Greek Democracy: Regrets Support for Junta in 1967

Article excerpt

ATHENS - President Clinton said yesterday that the United States failed to support democracy when it backed the military junta that took over Greece in 1967.

"The United States allowed its interest in prosecuting the Cold War to prevail over its interest - I should say its obligation - to support democracy, which was, after all, the cause for which we fought the Cold War. It is important that we acknowledge that," Mr. Clinton told business leaders before ending his 24-hour visit to Greece.

Mr. Clinton acknowledged the key anti-American grievance a day after Friday's violent protests marred his trip to the Greek capital.

"I strongly believe that protests should be peaceful. Therefore, I deeply regret the Greeks who had their property injured and who suffered losses through these demonstrations," Mr. Clinton said after talks with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis.

As the president boarded Air Force One and headed for Florence, Italy, White House officials acknowledged that a threat had been made against the aircraft but declined further comment.

Secret Service officials asked pool reporters traveling with the president to check their luggage for anything unfamiliar. Asked by a reporter if a threat was made against Air Force One, a presidential spokesman said yes. Nothing suspicious was found, however, and the plane landed in Florence without incident.

As many as 10,000 leftist, anti-American protesters gathered Friday in Syntagma Square, in front of the Greek parliament, chiefly to protest Mr. Clinton's campaign in Kosovo. White House aides said Mr. Clinton did not watch television reports about subsequent rioting in which dozens of masked protesters rampaged in downtown Athens.

The rioters smashed windows and threw Molotov cocktails that set stores afire. At least 16 persons were injured, and protesters damaged or destroyed 60 banks and boutiques. Greek Communists, who organized the protest, yesterday tried to distance themselves from the violence and blamed student anarchists.

Mr. Simitis said yesterday that Greece "is a democratic country where everyone can freely express his views and opinions," but he is sorry that "certain people did not observe and respect this fundamental principle of law."

In his joint press appearance with Mr. Simitis, Mr. Clinton also mildly criticized the foreign policy views of Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Mr. Bush, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, said Friday that China and Russia should be viewed as competitors and not as strategic partners of the United States.

"I think there is a problem with characterizing a country as a competitor if that means we know for sure that for the next 20 years there will be an adversary relationship," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton originally was to have begun his two-week trip to Europe with a three-day state visit to Greece. …