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Riots in downtown Athens. The situation got out of control

12 May 2011 / 18:05:13  GRReporter
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Two parallel protests blocked a large part of central Athens once again. The first was the protest of the residents around the Third of September Avenue near Omonia Square, where the 44-year-old Manolis Kantaris was killed two days ago. The second one was against the police violence due to which a 31-year-old man got a brain injury after the riots during the union strike yesterday. The protest in the name of Manolis gathered many members of extreme right movements, which support the idea that Greece has to expel the foreigners from the country. The second one involved extreme leftists and the followers of anarchist groups to which the wounded man with a brain injury is supposed to belong.

It all started in the morning when the neighbours of the murdered man and the other residents in the area decided to make a permanent protest. Their demands are for an increased police presence in the areas of high crime and the perpetrators of the crime that shocked Greece this week to be captured immediately. The official protest was announced for 4 pm when the citizens had to head to the central mayoralty of the capital.

Around three o'clock in the afternoon there were police officers and many residents of the neighbourhood near the September 3rd Avenue and Ipirou Street. The citizens had made something like a hand-made altar. There was the picture of Manolis Kantaris, who lost his life after he was attacked on the day of the birth of his fourth child. Around the picture there were bouquets of flowers and the women from the neighbourhood had placed candles and float-lights like in a church. The panel with the picture read "Protest rally, 12/05 at 4 pm. Let us give last respects to the poor murdered Greek man." The people had gathered in small groups. Some discussed the policy and who is to blame for the chaos in the country; others just stood in silence and looked to the scene of the murder. The general mood was more sad than angry.

Lines of reporters, cameras and photographers often are to be seen on such events. But this time things were different. When I reached the place there were no journalists around, and the people were cautious to the new face that entered their nonviolent protest. Only the reporters' bus of the national ERT TV was in the region as well as several journalists behind it. When they saw me, they greeted me and said cautiously: "It might be better not to mention that you are from a foreign media today."
 
The reason for the concerns of my Greek colleagues was that most probably the killers of Manolis were illegal immigrants. The allegation has not been proved and the police have not yet found their identity. However, this does not matter. All non-Greeks are not welcome in the country. This is the motto of the extreme rightists who are winning more votes each year. They are particularly influential in the areas of Aios Pantaleimonas, Victoria Square and September 3rd Avenue where there is a large number of immigrants (legal or not) from the former Eastern Bloc, North Africa and the Arab countries. Crime is high in those areas, and local people largely believe that the immigrants are to blame.

"I can not believe what my neighbourhood has become," admitted to GRReporter an old man who lives and has a family sundries shop on Victoria Square. He said that his shop was broken three times, and his customers have decreased significantly. "I pay taxes and VAT, I am exhausted and there is no one to protect me. I'm afraid to go home at night with all the attacks around. The Afghans and Pakistanis, who sell anything from anywhere on sheets in front of my shop, are not penalized."

Until now, I have always said boldly and proudly that I am a reporter of GRReporter – the Bulgarian news agency for the events in Greece. This time I could not do it. The conversation took place in Greek and thankfully my accent was not apparent. Maybe the man I spoke with has nothing against the Bulgarians, but I could not risk it. Among the neighbourhood residents could be already seen the faces of the boys from the xenophobic far-right organization Golden Dawn. They can be seen from afar with their black clothes and black collars which are used to protect them from tear gas if needed. It does not matter to them whether a person is a legal or an illegal immigrant. They divide the people into Greeks and junk.
 
There began the chanting: "Greece for the Greeks," "Jobs for the Greek workers," "Out foreigners!" A young couple, a boy and a girl, left the crowd and went to the wall of a building at the corner of Ipirou Street with September 3rd Avenue. The boy took out a spray and the girl looked around to see if anyone watched them. After a while, I went to where they both were alone and saw down the wall crooked letters that read: "Death to the foreigners." At this point I thought I was the wrong man in the wrong place.

Meanwhile, tension began to grow. It was after 4.30 pm and the people were preparing for their procession to the city hall. At one point, a shouting was heard "Shame on you! You protect the anarchists, you should protect the foreigners and you oppress the Greeks." This was a citizen who had just heard that the police did not allow the protest march to the city hall. Armored buses of the special forces, which blocked diagonally Ipirou Street and September 3rd Avenue could be seen in the four directions.

Tags: SocietyStrikesRiotsMurderAttacksGreeceProtests
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