Thursday 30 June 2011

Athens police - the real trouble makers?

We have been in Greece for three days now and I wanted to join the Indignants in Syntagma Square, but I knew that because of the impending vote on the austerity measures the police would use tear gas and as an asthmatic, this is no go for me.

The situation was much worse than we feared however, with the police overacting to a small group of  alleged troublemakers and a larger crowd of protesters who wanted to voice their grievances forcefully but peacefully.

Fires, tear gas, chemical warfare, stun grenades, stones and sheer brute force was the scene in Syntagma Square and adjoining streets for the last two days.

The metro station in Syntagma was turned into a makeshift hospital where doctors and paramedics tried to treat the people who had been injured and those who were affected by the tear gas and the other chemicals that the police had been using. Isn't chemical warfare prohibited by the Geneva Convention? Or is that just in times of war? Is it allowed in peace time?  And why are the Greek police so tear gas-happy?

This image shows a kiosk worker who has to wear a gas mask to do his job!

Sheer brute force was used indiscriminately. This was reported in the Guardian from kindersurprise: "one teargas cannister was deployed in the middle of a group of people having a calm debate, which was totally uncalled for.

The police were pretty disgraceful, throwing rocks at groups of protesters (not 'anarchists' but people of all ages) and generally lashing out and trying to kettle protesters into smaller side streets so that they could then throw tear gas at them. Their 'orders' were clear".

Two eye witness accounts reported on Alter Channel were really shocking.

The first account was by a lawyer whose office is on Ermou Street. She left her office and  went to the cafe which is on the ground floor of the same building to have a break and a coffee. Suddenly, officers burst in and released a tear gas cannister inside the coffee shop - no provocation, just people sitting in there having coffee and pastries.

The second account was by a man who was eating in the open air area of  a restaurant. Out of control riot police came on their motor bikes, and again, for no apparent reason started  indiscriminately beating all the people who were eating there. Several other eye witnesses came forward during that report to verify this account. The reporter interviewing could not understand why this happened as the restaurant was in Monastiraki, a prime location for tourists and quite a distance from Syntagma Square where the protests were occuring.

Amnesty International issued a press release: 'video footage and witness testimony points to the repeated use of excessive force by the police, including the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of tear gas and other chemicals against largely peaceful protesters'.

There is a stunned feeling of disbelief amongst Greeks today - disbelief that in times as difficult as these, the Greek government is allowing its police to treat its citizens in this way.....

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