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Athens launches 100-day countdown


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Athens' Olympic stadium remains a work in progress.
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Police in Athens are investigating a number of pre-dawn explosions.
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ATHENS, Greece (CNN) -- Ceremonies planned to mark the 100-day countdown to the Athens Olympic Games have been overshadowed by three bomb blasts in the Greek capital.

The pre-dawn explosions on Wednesday took place outside a heavily-guarded police station in central Athens. Although the building was extensively damaged nobody was injured. (Full story)

But the attacks have once again raised doubts over the city's readiness to host the Games, which begin August 13.

Construction work on many venues, including the main Olympic stadium, is well behind schedule while Greece has been fighting a publicity battle to allay concerns over security at the first Summer Games since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

The International Olympic Committee, which begins its final inspection of the city on Monday, said it was in close contact with Greek authorities following Wednesday's bombings.

"We're fully in the loop with the Greek authorities who are keeping us informed but they're the ones who are commenting on it. Obviously it's an incident which is not connected with an Olympic venue," IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies told Reuters.

"We understand it's a relatively small incident. We believe the matter is in hand with the Greek authorities. We will be monitoring as the day continues."

On Tuesday Athens organizers said the security budget for the Games had been raised to $1.21 billion, up by more than 50 percent from the $785 million announced last October.

The overall Olympic budget is already more than $1 billion above the planned $5.5 billion.

"We are doing everything which is humanly possible to have the maximum security," said Athens mayor Dora Bakoyianni.

"We have to show that modern Greece is able to organize a very good Olympic Games."

Insurance cover

Last week the International Olympic Committee announced that it had taken out insurance cover in case the Games were cancelled -- the first time it had taken such a step.

The $170 million policy covers terrorism, earthquakes, flooding and landslides -- although IOC president Jacques Rogge denied concerns about the state of Athens' preparations were behind the move.

Chief Athens organizer Gianna Angelopoulos Daskalaki admitted Wednesday there was not a "moment to lose."

"My major challenge is the same as that faced by everybody else involved in Games preparations: Stay focused and make every minute count, because we don't have a moment to lose," Daskalaki told The Associated Press.

The main construction concern for organizers is the huge steel dome that will cover the main Olympic stadium.

On Tuesday the IOC gave the Greek government until May 20 to slide into place two huge arches to support the 18,000 tons roof -- or abandon the project.

The ambitious project has already missed one "final deadline" on April 28, and was delayed again at the weekend.

The $177 million dome, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, is intended as the architectural centerpiece for the Games and a spectacular new landmark for the city.

But it also has more practical uses, carrying 1,000 tons of telecommunications and security equipment while carbon panels will reduce soaring summer temperatures inside the stadium for athletes and spectators.

Plans to put a roof on the swimming pool have already been controversially dropped, while a new tram line designed to ease Athens' congestion problems is not expected to be ready until less than a month before the Games.

"We won't have much time before the Games, that's for sure," Athens' IOC overseer Denis Oswald told The Associated Press.

"Our experts who have reviewed these plans say, 'yes, it's feasible it can be done.'

"But as long as it's not done, you never know if any unexpected difficulty will arise."


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