Sunday, May 15, 2011

Greek police force's reputation drops still further

Over the last three days two stories have dominated much of Greece's domestic news coverage and especially the TV news. The first concerns the tragic death of a 44 year old Athens resident who was murdered as he was getting ready to take his wife to hospital to give birth to their second child. According to newspaper reports the man was accosted by three assailents in the parking area of his apartment and when he refused to hand over a video camera he was carrying stabbed fatally.

The second story concerns savage attacks by riot police in Athens on participants in yesterday's protest marchers held in support of the country's general strike. As the video above shows the police beat and kicked repeatedly marchers leading to the hospitalisation of over 20 including two who are still in intensive care.

Greek riot police on standby during protest march - Thessaloniki, Greece.

In both cases we are witnessing the failure of Greece's police force to deal with the challenges being wrought by wrenching economic changes and a rising crime wave. For too long the police have operated with impunity able to ignore short comings in both its ability to deal with day to day crime and an evermore restive population that is angry with the role of the government in the current financial crisis. On the other hand the lessons learnt following the month long wave of unrest that accompanied the death of a 15 year old at the hands of police officers in the Exarchia district of central Athens in 2008 have already appear to have been forgotten.

In the wake the December shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos riots and street fighting broke across Greece and lead to billions of euros worth of damage. Yet, less than three years later the lack of control both  by the police authorities and the legal system over the conduct of officers has once more come to the fore.

It is the same lack of accountability that has seen the police fail to deal with a growing crime wave which has turned some areas of Athens in no-go zones and allowed local far right to gain ground politically by setting itself up as the saviours of the locally born Greek population against a supposedly criminal immigrant element. Aided by media eager to scape goat foreigners for Greece's present economic woes extremists are filling the vacuum created by lack of effective, professional policing.

However, the police authorities, despite the suspension of some officers following the Athens incident ares no mood to change their ways. Indeed with the ruling PASOK party's popularity at an all-time low the government needs the police more than ever as it battles to impose deeply unpopular austerity measures on a angry electorate. In a country where no member of the government can appear in public without causing a near riot PM, Giorgos Papandreou's cabinet knows that it dare not push the police too far since it is next to helpless without them.

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