Friday, July 01, 2011

The Battle for Athens. The day after.

When I got back from Athens the first thing I did was take a shower to wash away the stench of tear gas, Maalox and fear that had hung around me since the morning. Although I have seen my fair share of violent clashes here in Greece, including the uprising in December 2008, nothing had prepared me for the sheer level of savagery shown by the Athens riot police. More than once I saw them act like wild animals, pouncing upon anyone foolish enough to stop to plead or remonstrate with them

Time and time again the police sent vollies of tear gas into packed crowds and it's only by a miracle that no one got crushed under foot as thousands of people ran panic striken from the gas and flash grenades. Nor did this stop throughout the day, from the moment the trouble started at 1pm till after midnight Syntagma Square smelt and sounded like a war zone with an almost continous series of loud explosions and renewed tear gas attacks on the Los Indignados encampment.

Even as far away away as Monesteriki (a neighbourhood about 1km from parliament) rampaging motocycle officers created havoc as they attacked peaceful protesters in cafes and tavernas and gunned their bikes along narrow streets packed with tourists drinking coffee outside.

At no point did the level of police response correspond with the threat they were facing, instead of calmly dealing with a small group of stone throwing trouble makers they launched an all out attack on five fronts against demonstrators which succeeded in provoking a furious reaction from a much larger section of the rally who had outraged by the scenes of uncontrolled police violence they were witnessing.

If such violence had been restricted to an handful of officer or units then perhaps you could talk about rogue officers acting unlawfully, but the scale and the duration of the operation left no doubt that police were under direct ordrs to do everything in their power to break up the demonstration and make sure those taking part would not regroup. In that way the country's political leadership and ultimately, prime minister Giorgos Papandreou took the decision to surpress the anti-government protests in manner more befitting the brutal regimes of Egypt and Tunisia than any EU member.

This is a decision that may buy the ruling PASOK administration some time as people reel in shock from the violence but in the long term has severely damaged, perhaps irreparably the credibility of Greek parliamentary democracy and probably will be the final nail in the coffin of PASOK as a viable political force in future elections.

In a country where folk memories of previous state violence run deep, sometimes going back generations the events of the 28th and 29th June are not likely to remain fade any time soon..

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