Police fired tear gas and protestors threw petrol bombs as violence broke out in Athens following a demonstration against police brutality on Tuesday night, forcing Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis to take to television to call for calm.
“Blind rage does not lead anywhere… At this point everyone must display restraint and calm,” said Mitsotakis following the news that police had only managed to arrest 10 demonstrators despite 3 officers being injured, one seriously after being dragged off a motorcycle and beaten by the crowd.
Tuesday’s violence followed a 5000 strong demonstration in the wake of a video surfacing online showing a police officer beating a student on Sunday. The man had been sitting on a bench when police approached him to confront him about allegedly breaking Greece’s strict coronavirus restrictions. “He pushed me and then the other officers kicked me all over my body,” the student told Efsyn newspaper, explaining he had been attempting to negotiate with the squad who had been handing out €300 fines. In a rare step, an accused officer was relieved of his duties pending an internal investigation.
Greece has been under strict lockdown conditions including the banning of protests since last November, and Tuesday also saw its largest daily surge in infection rate meaning this is likely to continue for some time.
“The country has a government that has totally lost control of the pandemic, and the only thing it knows how to do… is use a heavy hand,” said Syriza’s leader and former prime minister, Alexis Tsipras. The ruling New Democracy party came to power in July 2019, after promising a crackdown and tough policies to restore law and order, after blaming Syriza for “allowing lawlessness to flourish.”
The atmosphere has been tense for weeks as demonstrators have repeatedly openly defied the ban — Greek students and their allies were out in force protesting their government’s plans to introduce permanent police units to their campuses. “Rage is building,” said Panagotis Katis, 20, a student at the University of the Peloponnese, “It’s not just the campus police — which goes against every notion of universities being places that ensure freedom of expression — people are also incensed that their basic rights are being attacked by police who should be protecting us, not abusing the law, and that’s why so many are out here today.”
In addition to this, large demonstrations continue in solidarity with Dimitris Koufondinas, a member of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist group “17 November” (17N), who has been on hunger strike for the past two months in response to harsh changes in his prison sentence, treatment and conditions. Koufondinas’s supporters were also among those who took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday. “We’re all here, including his son over there,” said one protester, pointing to a young man wearing a red bandana on his face. “Koufondinas wanted us on the streets. It’s getting explosive. There’s a lot of anger in the air.”