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live Three injured and over one hundred arrested in a protest outside the Ministry of Defence

04 October 2012 / 12:10:25  GRReporter
3540 reads

Anastasia Balezdrova
Vassilis Vafidis

A riotous demonstration of Skaramanga shipyard workers provoked the intervention of riot forces and caused chaos in Athens. To put the situation under control, the police had to use force and tear gas, and the two lanes of the main Mesogeion Avenue, in which the Ministry of Defence is located, remained closed for hours.

Around 500 workers, who have not received salaries for six months, entered with great ease the courtyard of the otherwise strictly guarded institution by simply breaking the barrier at the point of entry and the bottom of the metal shutter at the entrance. They went directly to the entrance of the building, asking to meet with Minister Panos Panagiotopoulos. Their representatives had had an appointment with the Ministry’s administration. When they realized that he was not there because he had gone to one of the celebrations of the centennial anniversary of the Balkan War, some of them lost their temper.

Scenes unseen until now followed. Chief Commander of the Staff of the Greek Army General Michalis Kostarakos attempted to appease the workers in public shipyards by using a loudspeaker. He asked them how could they enter the military unit in this way and why they had broken the door of the Ministry with black flags in their hands. This enraged the protesters even more. The General told them to leave the courtyard of the Ministry and violent clashes immediately ensued.

In addition to tear gas, the police used their batons and three workers were injured as a result. Initially, police were able to capture three people. Then, their number grew to ten. Some of the protesters were able to go out. The rest of them, however, found themselves in a closed circle guarded by riot forces. Their colleagues, who did not allow anyone to enter or leave, had blocked the main entrance too. Some workers, however, managed to escape from the circle and flee to the entrance.

When it became clear that the people blocked would be captured their counterparts outside the fence decided to organize a protest march to the headquarters of the Attica police on Alexandras Avenue. The first police bus arrived early. Only a few representatives of non-parliamentary left parties and trade unionists from other professional organizations were waiting for it. They applauded the shipbuilders while they were getting off the bus to be taken to the police station.

The procession came a little later. The colleagues of the arrested shipbuilders were shouting loudly the slogan "Free the workers. They are not terrorists, they want a job." According to their colleagues, the total number of detainees was about 140, 9 of them being members of their trade union’s leadership. Then, the lawyer of the trade union arrived at the police station. He wanted to accompany the detainees, but he was not allowed to. He and some of the protesters murmured against this, but calmed after it became clear that the lawyer could be admitted only after their arrest.

SYRIZA’s deputy Panagiotis Lafazanis, who had visited the captured protesters, appeared to the protesting shipbuilders and told them, "We will not leave until they set all of them free." His words sparked enthusiasm. Some began to cry, "The revolution starts here." Meanwhile, representatives of the trade union of employees in the underground, the national electricity company DEI and others arrived. The leaderships of the two largest unions – of private sector workers GSEE and public sector workers ADEDY were gradually arriving.

The protest was quieter until the emergence of workers from shipyards in Elefsina and Perama. They arrived with smoke bombs and black flags in their hands and immediately started clashes with the police. They were throwing the flags’ rods, water bottles, coffee cups and smoke bombs. The police responded with several tear gas sprays.

The protest procession of physicians from the national health system joined the protest too. They had previously gathered at a protest meeting outside the Ministry of Health.

Shortly after 4 pm, it became clear that 127 of the captured workers had been charged and they were under arrest. Their protesting colleagues immediately began a procession to the court complex Evelpidon.

Meanwhile, a meeting was taking place at the Ministry of Citizen Protection and Public Order, which discussed the morning rush into the Ministry of Defence. Minister Nikos Dendias expressed earlier his discontent at what had happened. Sources from the Ministry acknowledged that some officers had underestimated the seriousness of the situation at the Ministry of Defence and there were not enough police forces there.

Tags: ProtestsTear gasInjuredWoundedRiot forcesShipyard in Skaramanga
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