Keeping Portugal safe

Border clampdown during events.

Officers from the Maritime Police have detained an Algerian man for illegally entering into Portugal. The individual had disembarked from a fishing vessel in Praia da Rocha and was believed to be waiting on land for alternative transport when he was arrested. The suspect was handed over to the Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) border patrol officers and the Spanish and Moroccan police forces were alerted.

News of the man’s arrest came as the Minister for Internal Administration, Figueiredo Lopes, said the nation should remain calm, but also vigilant. He went on to say that the authorities have not discounted the possibility that Portugal may be used as a base for potential Islamic terrorists. “We are too near Morocco and Spain to ignore this hypothesis,” said Lopes. He also confirmed that Portugal will close its frontiers during the Rock in Rio-Lisboa music festival and the European football championship. However, Lopes, assured the nation that the government would not “surrender to paranoid security measures”, although he is seeking help from NATO to reinforce the nation’s safety.

Further security investments

Lopes explained that the measures are being taken to minimise the possibility of terrorist attacks. He stressed that the security services had no knowledge of any credible threat directed against Portugal, but said that the prevention of terrorism was at the centre of the government’s preoccupations. According to the minister, the measures have the full support of the Prime Minister and of the Ministry of Finances, which has pledged “it will have no difficulty in making further investments to reinforce security”.

The closure of frontiers is just one of the measures being considered to reinforce security. Lopes did not reveal a definite date for the move, but Rock in Rio-Lisboa takes place between May 28 and June 6, and Euro 2004 takes place between June 12 and July 4. So the Schengen accords, which permit the free movement of traffic within those nations that subscribe to its terms, would have to be suspended some days before May 28.

Action not talk

Opposition MPs expressed their approval of Lopes’ speech outlining his plans to parliament, but commented that further measures to combat terrorism were needed. António Filipe from the Communist Party (PCP) reminded parliament that “the security of Portuguese people is guaranteed with actions from the country’s security forces and not by discussions”.

Madrid attacks ‘will not benefit Portugal’.

Portugal will not reap any benefits from the recent terrorist attacks in Madrid, according to the President of the Portuguese Tourist Confederation. Atílio Forte said people would soon resume their normal behaviour and that Portugal does not stand to gain from holidaymakers deciding to boycott Spain. “There has always been terrorism in that country and yet Spain is still the third most popular tourist destination in the world,” Forte pointed out.

Neither did he believe that those Portuguese people who traditionally spend their holidays in Spain would alter their plans. He noted that, even when Basque terrorist group Eta had targeted resorts, tourists continued to travel to the coast for their holidays. Forte’s opinion is also shared by the president of the Portuguese Association of Travel Agencies and Tourism, Vitor Felipe: “It is logical that, in the early days, there are some fears and a tendency for tourists to flee Spain, but this soon passes. Last year there was an attack in Benidorm, but people returned very quickly,” he noted. Some experts believe that the Madrid attacks may even boost visitor numbers because tourists may wish to visit the scene of the tragedy out of curiosity, as happened in New York after September 11.

A total of 307,000 Portuguese people travelled abroad during 2002 (the last year for which there are statistics), and Spain was their preferred destination, accounting for 46.9 per cent of those who took a holiday abroad. This was followed by France with 11.3 per cent.

PM pledges no U-turn.

Prime Minister Durão Barroso has insisted that the Portuguese GNR contingent will stay in Iraq and “honour its commitments”. Interviewed on RTP television, Barroso said that to change his policies now would be a capitulation to terrorism. “We cannot give in to fear. It is an illusion to think that, if we do this, we would become more secure,” he said. “Terrorism is the Nazism of our times, only it is faceless,” he added. The Prime Minister confirmed that he is not going to change course just because Spain has suffered an attack or because the new Spanish leader has announced that he is going to withdraw from Iraq. “It will not do Spain any good to change the policies followed by the previous government,” he said. Barroso also stressed that “there are no credible threats against Portugal” and that the government is doing everything it can to protect citizens.