The future expansion of multiplexes in Greece is in jeopardy following a legal dispute between country's Exhibitors Federation and the builders of a 10-screen new multiplex in the central Athens residential district of Ambelokipi.

The planned opening this month of the City Plaza multiplex - leased by veteran film distributor and exhibitor George Michaelides - has been halted following an appeal by the Exhibitors Federation appeal to the Constitutional Council.

The Federation and a number of Ambelokipi resident's associations oppose the multiplex.

The Federation's president Dimitris Gakas told that "legislation does not permit the construction and operation of cinema venues, commercial centres and malls in areas classified as residential".

However, the Federation is not merely worrying about the impact of the multiplex on local residents. Five traditional cinema venues, which fear that they will lose considerable business, are situated nearby the multiplex.

Ever since multiplexes first launched into Greece in the mid-nineties, traditional venues have seen their admissions decrease. During 2002 they posted a 14% decline in admissions, while multiplexes saw admissions rise by 3%.

Michaelides said, "It's a political problem. The government has to decide whether it wishes to have more cinema venues constructed or not." Michaelides also claimed that the core of the problem lies in the Federation's members fear of competition from the multiplexes.

Gagas commented: "We are not against sound competition. We too wish that the Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos takes sides. It is illogical that from one side the Ministry decides to protect a number of traditional cinema venues considering that their operation and existence is of public interest while at the same time allows, contrary to the existing legislation, the operation of multiplexes in the vicinity".

The City Plaza case is not the only one troubling the Greek authorities. The construction of another 10 screen multiplex by Ster Century in the city centre residential area of Aharnon has been put on hold for similar reasons.

However, another multiplex, the 8-screen Ster Century-Ilion is to start operating next month in the eastern suburbs of the city.

Greece, with a 10 million population, has some 370 sites with 450 screens and a per capita attendance of only 1.5. Annual admissions are 14m while the annual box office is Euros 85m . The market is expected to reach the 20m admissions within the next five years if more venues, especially multiplexes, are constructed.

Major multiplex operators include, Village Roadshow (4 sites/45 screens), Alpha Odeon (2 sites/26 screens), Ster Century (1 site/11 screens).