Police in Athens have fired tear gas at hundreds of demonstrators who were trying to march on the American Embassy to protest the upcoming visit of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Several of the demonstrators carried banners protesting against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. The march started out peacefully, but as the demonstrators tried to proceed down one of Athens' major thoroughfares to the embassy, they were blocked by police in riot gear. The Greek government had made clear before the demonstration that it would allow citizens to express their feelings but would not tolerate any disorder. Officials were especially concerned that the demonstrators might try to block special traffic lanes set aside for vehicles carrying Olympic athletes and visiting dignitaries. Mr. Powell, who arrives in Athens on Saturday, is scheduled to hold meetings with Greek leaders and attend the closing ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games on Sunday, informs VOANews. According to Newsday, hundreds of protesters shouting anti-U.S. slogans marched through central Athens on Friday demanding that Secretary of State Colin Powell cancel his visit to the Olympic Games, then skirmished with riot police who blocked them from reaching the American Embassy. "We want to show that there's a response to the American government sending Colin Powell here," said Costas Pitas, one of about 1,000 marchers. "We don't want him here. We are not against the American people, but we're against the American government policies in Iraq." Police fired small amounts of tear gas, and some protesters responded by hurling rocks and placards on the edge of swank Syntagma Square, which is surrounded by cafes and expensive hotels. For the most part, though, the demonstration was peaceful and never spilled into the throngs of tourists, shoppers and diners milling about the marble plaza or watching the changing of the guard outside Parliament, which overlooks it. Syntagma is midway along the marchers' planned route, and police had parked two buses across the street they had planned to follow from there to the Embassy. The skirmishes followed a half-hour standoff there. A march was planned on the same route for Saturday, when Powell was to arrive. His two-day visit is to culminate at Sunday's Closing Ceremonies. Chants of "Powell, out!" rose from the crowd, which carried banners reading "Powell out of Olympic Games" and "Powell you are not welcome." An American flag was burned in front of a McDonald's restaurant.
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