Calls for calm after rally
Violent skirmish leaves 30-year-old critical as four police officers suspended
Government officials yesterday appealed for calm after an isolated outbreak of violence during an otherwise peaceful anti-austerity demonstration in Athens on Wednesday ended in the serious injury of a 30-year-old protestor and fueled a heated debate in Parliament about the undue use of force by some police officers.
“We express great regret for the grievous injury sustained by this young man,” government spokesman Giorgos Petalotis said in a statement. But, he added, “we must all remain calm and cool-headed during this very difficult time for our country.”
The 30-year-old was in critical condition at the Nikaia General Hospital yesterday. Panayiotis Papanikolaou, a surgeon there, told Skai that it was “a miracle” that the man was still alive and that his condition had stabilized but that the next 48 hours would be crucial. He said that dozens of demonstrators had visited hospitals across the capital for treatment to injuries sustained during the rally.
A police statement issued yesterday said that three officers had been suspended for allegedly using excessive force against a demonstrator. The three officers’ supervisor has been suspended too, pending an investigation, the statement added. Police press spokesman Thanassis Kokkalakis told state television that a small minority of troublemakers were to blame for the isolated violence which marred Wednesday’s otherwise peaceful rally. “After each demonstration we see the same thing – organized and violent gangs exploiting those exercising their right to demonstrate,” he said.
The incident fueled tension in Parliament yesterday. Panayiotis Lafazanis of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) accused riot police officers of “carrying out vicious attacks on unarmed demonstrators with the aim of killing them.” Deputy Finance Minister Filippos Sachinidis emphasized the need for “cool-headedness and self-control.” Another demonstrator who reportedly suffered serious injuries during Wednesday’s protest, which attracted about 30,000 people, reportedly told state television channel NET that he had not been attacked by police but had slipped and hurt himself.
A group of protesters late yesterday occupied the central building of Athens University, where the violence broke out on Wednesday, and draped a banner outside reading “Murderers.” There had been no reports of trouble by late last night.