After Greece’s government approved yet another austerity plan on June 29, protests in the capital Athens reached new heights of violence as police cracked down on demonstrators, forcing the city’s police chief to publicly apologise. According to our Observer in Athens, the police’s brutal tactics amounted to urban warfare.
Greeks, already unhappy with the country’s deepening debt crisis, had been protesting for days in anticipation of the austerity measures. On June 25, protesters had rallied in Athen’s central Syntagma Square [Constitution Square], where the country’s “Indignant Citizens” (a protest movement inspired by Spain’s non-partisan youth campaign, “Los Indignados”), had camped out. On June 28, thousands of people gathered in Athens to protest against the impending austerity measures, after heeding calls from two major trade unions urging a 48-hour general strike.
Shortly after the Greek government approved the austerity plan on June 29 clashes among protesters, rioters and the police quickly escalated. Hundreds of people were hospitalised for respiratory problems after police fired tear gas, and several buildings in downtown Athens were set ablaze by Molotov cocktails hurled by protesters.
As Athens began to look more like a battle ground than a European capital city, images of the violence quickly appeared on the web. Some of the videos appeared to depict Greek police in collaboration with rioters, and the Guardian website quoted one political activist who claimed to have footage demonstrating that the two sides were in cahoots. Inundated by complaints of police brutality and excessive force, the Greek government quickly reacted by launching an inquiry into the police’s tactics.
“The police have stripped away our right to protest”.
Nikos Karamfyllis is a sales manager. He did not participate in the demonstrations on June 29 because of his fears of police brutality, but he closely followed the events on-line.
A month ago I went on several of the marches against the austerity packages. Then, there were families, including mothers with prams. But after protesting for several days, the police began to get more and more anxious. I did not go to the protest of the 29th June because I had a feeling that it would turn ugly.
Close to the Greek Parliament in the capital Athens on June 29. Video published by uploadmusicandmore on You Tube on June 29.
In this film, the police are forming a security cordon around the Parliament. You can see one minute and 35 seconds into the footage, a rioter [the man with his face shrouded] having a discussion with a police officer. They seem very calm and relaxed, as if they know each other. This snippet proved to me that the police and the rioters collaborated to block the peaceful protestors’ march.
Outside Syntagma Square metro station on June 29. Video published by PALAVIARIS30 on You Tube on June 29.
Doctors tended the injured inside Syntagma metro station. But the police eventually forced their way in after protesters began throwing rocks at them. [Two minutes into the video] they released tear gas in the station, even though many people were taking refuge down there. [Watch a video filmed inside the station here].
Mitropoleos Road is a pedestrian street where many tourists go to relax in the cafes and restaurants. The anti-riot police descended on it like cowboys on motorbikes even though they had no real reason to go there. The demonstration was on the main road at Syntagma Square. They took this route simply to cause havoc.
Video published by PALAVIARIS30 on You Tube on June 29.
This time the police have just gone too far. What happened on Wednesday is tantamount to urban warfare. The chief of police made a public apology on television last night for how the police handled the incident. But this will not quell the anger of Athenians, who’s right to protest has been stripped away".
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Peggy Bruguière.