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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 19:21 GMT
Greek minister hopes for quick solution
Two of the group of 12 British plane-spotters
The group are likely to face more charges next week
Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou has told the BBC that he hopes the case of the 12 British plane-spotters will be resolved soon.

Mr Papandreou told BBC Radio 5 Live that he accepted there was a tradition of plane-spotting peculiar to the UK that was not found in Greece.

But he said that the previous tensions between Greece and Turkey and the events of 11 September meant security in the country had always been tight, especially surrounding military establishments.

We do not have the large tradition of plane-spotting that Britain doe

Panos Beglitis
Greek Foreign Ministry
The minister added that the prosecutor in the case of the Britons, who are being held on spying charges, was due to meet them again soon and was looking into it as quickly as possible.

Pressure is growing on the Greek Government to release the 12, who have been held in custody for three weeks accused of spying after allegedly taking photographs and making notes of planes at a military air base.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair raised the issue with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis during a telephone conversation with earlier this week.

But Mr Papandreou reiterated that his government would not intervene on what is a matter for the Greek judiciary.

Personal interest

He told 5 Live: "We are following this quite closely but as a government we cannot tell the judicial system to slow down or speed up."

Three Greek foreign ministry officials visited Lesley Coppin, the sole woman in the group, at the high-security Korydallos women's prison near Athens on Friday.

It was originally thought that Mr Papandreou would visit her but he decided to send two aides.

News of his visit had been interpreted as a sign the group were to be released, but Mr Papandreou decided he should not be seen to intervene in the judicial process.

Foreign ministry secretary general Lena Koutsibou, diplomatic cabinet head Dimitris Paraskevopoulos, and ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis spent about half an hour with Mrs Coppin.

Relationship harmed

Mrs Coppin told the visitors she had been treated well, and preferred to stay in a cell with other women rather than be moved to one on her own as had been offered, Mr Beglitis said.

"We conveyed the personal interest of the foreign minister and of the government."

It is understood Greek foreign ministry officials are worried that the country's relationship with the UK is being needlessly harmed.

On Friday, Britain's Minister for Europe Peter Hain raised the group's plight in a telephone conversation with his Greek counterpart Tassos Yiannitsis.

The group are expected to appear in a Kalamata court on Tuesday to respond to an extra charge they face for taking notes and plane numbers at a restricted military base in Megara, near Athens.

Plane-spotting holiday

Authorities say they had already warned the group on three occasions before their arrest not to photograph military bases.

The group, who were on a plane-spotting holiday, deny taking photographs inside a restricted military zone - a charge which carries a maximum 20-year jail sentence in Greece.

Mrs Coppin's husband Paul, 45, from Mildenhall, Suffolk, is the boss of Touchdown Tours, the company responsible for arranging the week-long trip.

Greek police named the other 10 Britons as: Peter Norris, 52; Antoni Adamiak, 37; Steven Rush, 38; Andrew Jenkins, 32; Christopher Wilson, 46; Wayne Groves, 38; Graham Arnold, 38; Michael Keane, 57; Gary Fagan, 28; Michael Bursell, 47.

Greek foreign minister, George Papandreou
"We don't have the tradition of plane spotting"
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