Sunday, December 06, 2009
Protests to mark the first anniversary of death of Greek teen end in clashes
There's nothing like blind terror for letting you know you're alive.Every sensory input suddenly lights up your neurons like a city block decked out for Christmas. You become aware of absolutely everything around you, decisions that you usually kick around your head for minutes are taken in units of times measured in 100ths of seconds. What you don't notice, however, is pain.
After being chased on and off by riot cops and those on motorbikes for more than a kilometre I end up with a couple of hundred kids just below the ministry building, there's no way out as both above and below us are platoons of riot cops who keep on shooting tear gas canisters into the crowd despite the fact that there is nowhere to go. I try to see if I get pass but those ahead of me get beaten and kicked by the riot squad and so forced back into the main mass.
A gas canister, shot out of something resembling an old style revolver smashes into the tarmac next to me, richochetting and striking my leg. In the general panic, I pay it little attention, worried that I too will next in line for a beating and move back, but where? There is nowhere to go.
Eventually, the gas clears and we realise that we are surrounded, police order us to sit down and start insulting and kicking those around the edges. Somebody, injured cries for help, they ignore her and keep on screaming at those on the ground. There are so many people in such a small space that it's nearly impossible to find room. I squeeze in besides some high school students and looking down see that my jeans are red. Is someone hurt, I Look at the guy next to me who appears to be fine. Then it dawns on me that the blood might be my own. I left the leg and see the canister has taken out a chunk of flesh in my shin. It doesn't even hurt, strangely enough.
The cops keep on whacking away at those they consider are not complying with their orders and something in me breaks. I'm not what I wanted to achieve or what good I could do but I get up and start shouting at them in English, "I'm a reporter with Reuters " I lie but that was the first thing that popped into my head, I keep on shouting it in my best "you've been naughty, now sit down" teacher's voice as loud as I can, adding that what happens today will be on the news tomorrow again and again. I'm not sure how much they understand but it distracts their attention and they seem to calm down ,or at least behave. By that time the rest of the media pack have caught up with us and so the police stand down, having more sense than to beat people on live TV.
Those detained are taken in police vans to the central police station in Thessaloniki and who knows what. Their crime simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
With the help of the march's legal team I manage to get out and find an ambulance which takes me along with another guy hit in the face by a canister to the local hospital. There we see other injured in a similar way, including a young woman hit in the head, afterwards she told me that her camera had been smashed by the police when she attempted to record their abuse.
According to Greek channel MEGA today has been a great success for the authorities and the police's new hard line has brought results. I think that what they have brought is a new round of escalation which will grow in the coming days.