ATHENS — With the eyes of the world — and the financial markets — paying close attention to Greece ahead of crucial regional elections this weekend, the country was on high alert Thursday as developments regarding an elaborate plot involving letter bombs addressed to foreign embassies in Athens stretched into a fourth day.
Authorities in Athens found another explosive device, this one addressed to the French Embassy, and formally charged two men, Gerasimos Tsakalos, 24, and Panagiotis Argyrou, 22, with terrorism offenses, accusing them of sending similar crude explosive devices to the German, Italian and French embassies in packages addressed to those countries' leaders. The Associated Press, citing court papers, reported one was a college student and the other unemployed.
The police said Argyrou was charged with membership in a criminal organization and involvement in three attacks on Greek targets in 2009. The Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire claimed responsibility in each case. Greek officers have intensified their search for five other people suspected of being members of the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire.
In all, officials have dealt with 12 confirmed bombs in Greece this week.
Although authorities said the risk from the explosives was relatively small — one security expert called them the product of "inventive amateurism" — the packages contributed to a growing sense of instability here ahead of elections on Sunday. The vote is expected to be a referendum on the deeply unpopular austerity measures of the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Greece has been under an international microscope since May, when it adopted austerity measures in exchange for a pledge of more than $150 billion in loans from its European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund.
Those measures, which included cuts to pensions and civil servants' wages as well as tax increases, were aimed at reducing the country's debt and budget deficit, but they have not gone over well with citizens. On Nov. 15, the Communist-backed labor union PAME plans to hold a protest rally in central Athens to coincide with the scheduled arrival of IMF inspectors. On Dec. 15, the main labor union, GSEE, which represents about half a million people, is expected to hold a 24-hour strike.