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War forces Greek family to shut storied Khartoum hotel

By Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) - Thanasis Pagoulatos kept the family-run Acropole Hotel in Khartoum open throughout all the coups, wars and uprisings that Sudan has periodically endured - until the war that tore through the capital this month finally forced him out.

"It's as if a part of mine is taken from us," said the 79-year-old Greek, now in his Athens home, his voice cracking with emotion.

"I'm nearly 80. I have lived all my life there so Khartoum - or Sudan - is part of my life."

Among the city's oldest hotels, the Acropole was opened in 1952 by Pagoulatos' father Panaghis, who went to Khartoum from Greece in 1944, in the final days of World War Two.

The unassuming, sand-coloured colonial building in central Khartoum has played host to foreign journalists, aid workers, diplomats and business people throughout its 71-year history.

"Nothing fancy," Pagoulatos says. "It has always been, from the very beginning, a family business."

Thanasis and his younger brothers George and Makis - who was born in the Acropole - have run the hotel for decades, and their charm and attentive service have earned it a legendary reputation among its foreign clientele.

When fighting between the army and a rival paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), intensified in Khartoum this week, Pagoulatos and his sister-in-law were holed up in the Acropole with four guests and three staff for 10 days without power or running water.

When RSF fighters forced them to abandon the hotel, they fled on foot, through streets Pagoulatos said were littered with bodies, taking only their passports, his laptop and a change of clothes.

"We had seen a lot of coups, a lot of changes, but never such a thing," said Pagoulatos, a tall, soft-spoken man who arrived in Athens this week as part of a wider exodus of foreign nationals. "That was something really out of this world."

In recent years, as Khartoum was gripped by a growing number of protests, the owners decided to move into the hotel. And even now, Pagoulatos said leaving Sudan had never crossed his mind.

"Even my movements in the last moments was finding somewhere safe to stay ... for the situation to calm down, and then to continue my work," he said. "But leaving Sudan? No."

The hotel is now closed and it is not safe for any friends in Khartoum to check up on the premises. But still Pagoulatos is hopeful he might be able to go back.

"Visiting once more Sudan, at least maybe for the last time - it will happen. It has to materialise. Because everything, the whole thing, our work, our belongings, everything is there. We left with nothing, absolutely nothing."

(Additional reporting by Hannah Ellison; Editing by Alison Williams)