Handbag saved Athens Mayor from assassination

The new mayor of Athens escaped assassination today when she bent down to pick up her handbag just as a gunman shot at her car from point blank range.

The new mayor of Athens escaped assassination today when she bent down to pick up her handbag just as a gunman shot at her car from point blank range.

Her driver was hit by the bullet but not seriously injured.

The attack was similar to one that left Mayor elect Dora Bakoyianni a widow 13 years ago and began her political rise.

It also recalled Greece’s long history of politically motivated violence that has contributed to record security costs for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

But police said the main suspect is a 35-year-old car mechanic who has undergone psychiatric treatment and has no apparent link to organised terrorism.

Bakoyianni – who will be sworn-in as mayor on January 1 and will represent Athens during the Olympics – is the widow of a conservative political leader killed in 1989 by the November 17 terrorist group. He too was targeted as he neared his office.

Mrs Bakoyianni’s car was fired on about 50 yards from her political headquarters near the Acropolis. The side windows of the silver Saab were shattered.

The driver was hit in the neck and Mrs Bakoyianni was cut in the face and hands by glass shards.

Police arrested the attacker as he tried to flee along a pedestrian mall near the Acropolis.

The shooting brought swift denunciations from political leaders worried about any whiff of political unrest as Athens prepares for the Olympics and tries to shake its bloodstained past.

“We strongly condemn the attack,” said Telemachos Hytiris, spokesman for the Socialist government.

The opposition New Democracy leader, Costas Caramanlis, expressed ”shock and outrage.”

The mayoral post in Athens is highly ceremonial. But Bakoyianni, 48, brings a rich political pedigree and a strong following.

She took over the parliament seat of her husband, Pavlos, after he was killed. She later served as culture minister in the 1990-3 government of her father, former Premier Constantine Mitsotakis.

In recent years, she became a leading critic of Greek authorities’ inability to crack the November 17 group – blamed for 23 killings and dozens of bombings and other attacks since 1975. It last victim was the British military attache, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, in June 2000.

In October, a group of marchers supporting November 17 chanted slogans insulting the memory of Bakoyainni’s murdered husband.

“It causes me rage and repugnance,” Bakoyianni said at the time. “No one ever demonstrated against terrorism and now we have this.”

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