Greece Picks Up The Pieces

With the search for survivors all but abandoned, Greek government officials met Wednesday with businessmen to assess earthquake damage to the capital's industrial zone.

With the death toll at 137, rescue crews said they still believed six people were trapped in the rubble of a kitchen products factory. But government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said crews would soon stop the search.

Six others remained hospitalized in serious condition after the Sept. 7 magnitude 5.9 quake, which flattened parts of working class and immigrant districts north of central Athens.

Defense Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos announced he was canceling Greece's largest annual military exercise, to be held in October and involving nearly 50,000 troops, in order to channel the funds towards earthquake relief.

Tsochadzopoulos already announced he was scaling back a number of exercises so the money can be used to buy some of the 5,000 prefabricated homes the military plans to erect within the next two months.

His decisions point to warmer relations between Greece and traditional rival Turkey, which was rocked by a 7.3 magnitude quake on Aug. 17. The two countries have been engaged in a multibillion-dollar arms buildup.

After each country suffered quakes, though, they rushed to help each other.

With more than 6,500 damaged homes slated for demolition in the Athens area, as many as 100,000 people could need shelter.

Prosecutors began onsite examinations as part of a criminal investigation to determine if contractors bypassed strict anti-quake regulations to build some of the demolished buildings. The focus of their preliminary investigation was the five-story kitchen products factory where more than 20 died.

National Economy Minister Yannos Papantoniou met with the Greek Industrialists Union and other trade groups to reassure business leaders the economy will not be derailed by the quake. Greece aims to adopt the Euro by the start of 2001, joining the 11 other countries that use the single European currency.

Papantoniou has estimated damage could surpass the equivalent of $650 million. He also warned the government would crack down on any attempts to profit from the quake.

For the third successive day, the Athens Stock Exchange extended its record-setting streak, rising 2.1 percent, or 127.36 points, to a record 6181.05. The construction industry once again led the market, buoyed by expectations of post-quake rebuilding.