#rbnews international weekly bulletin 23-29 March 2013

The text companion to this week’s #rbnews international show is now online. You can read it after the jump.

Demonstrations took place in both Greece and Cyprus on Sunday and Monday against the Eurogroup decision which restructures Cyprus’s two largest banks and is anticipated to have massive consequences on the whole of the Cypriot economy. In Greece, left-wing activists unfurled a large banner reading “We are all Cypriots” at the Independence Day Parade in Thessaloniki on 25 March. Further demonstrations took place in Cyprus throughout the week, organized by the main opposition party AKEL and by bank employees, but also by schoolchildren and university students, and by Golden dawn’s sister party in Cyprus, ELAM, on Thursday evening.
A group of Greek and Cypriot artists is also organizing an all-day solidarity concert on 01 April to collect food, medicines and other basic items which will be distributed to individuals and families who face immediate needs due to the banking crisis.
Banks in Cyprus re-opened with strict capital control measures on Thursday at midday after being closed for almost two weeks. The procedure went smoothly. Long queues, in particular in front of Laiki bank and Bank of Cyprus, which are being restructured, at opening time had dispersed a few hours later as customers were being served.
There was however a level of unrest associated with the Bank of Cyprus in both Greece and Cyprus this week. On Monday, a branch of the bank was fire-bombed in Limassol, while another branch was fire-bombed in Volos on Thursday, by individuals who were identified as members of Golden Dawn by the Greek police, although Golden Dawn denies this. On Wednesday evening, a large explosion took place at the residence of Greek shipping magnate Panagiotis Tsakos in Athens. While the reasons behind the attack remain unclear, it is noteworthy that Tsakos is a member of the board of the Bank of Cyprus.
While international media have placed a lot of emphasis on the role played by Greece’s government and businessmen in causing the crisis in Cyprus, in particular on the impact of the PSI haircut of Greek sovereign debt on Cypriot banks and on shady deals conducted by Greek bankers, Greek media have avoided the issue or sought to blame the Cypriot authorities. On Wednesday evening, SKAI television interviewed Greek bussinesman and ex-president of Laiki Bank, Andreas Vgenopoulos, who sought not only to lay the blame on Cypriot finance officials but also engaged in defamatory tactics against the Cypriot Finance Minister.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The Independence Day Parade in the village of Ierissos in Halkidiki took place with undertones of an anti-mining demonstration as schoolchildren marched with T-shirts reading “No to gold mining” and “Tear gas in schools? 7 March 2013.” Ierissos is at the heart of the protest movement against ore mining plans in Halkidiki. The protest at the schoolchildren’s parade focused on the invasion of the village by riot police on 7 March, which was extremely brutal and during which tear gas canisters landed in the school courtyard, causing several children to be transferred to hospital with head wounds and respiratory problems.
Following the parade, the people of Ierissos left in a vehicle convoy to join other residents of the region at the Megali Panagia junction, to march together to the entrance of the forest taken over by Hellas Gold and its parent company Eldorado Gold. At least 1500 people participated in the demonstration, which ended peacefully.
A comical interlude took place in Halkidiki last Thursday 21 March, when a strong gale caused the fishing boats from Ierissos to drift towards the gulf of Stratoni, the village where the mining company has its offices and factory and where a majority of residents are employed in the mining industry and strongly support mining. Panicked residents thought the little flotilla was an invading force from Ierissos and called upon the police and port authorities to intervene. The fishermen went ahead with their work and found out about the alleged crisis after returning to Ierissos in the early hours of Friday morning, when they were told that police had been roaming the village all night, interrogating villagers and writing down license plate numbers.
Less comical is the fact that 20 anti-mining activists were interrogated in Thessaloniki this week by the police, who are preparing to press charges against them for participation in the arson attack on the Skouries mining site on 17 February. The case file prepared by the police lists 7 felonies and 9 misdemeanours, which the investigating magistrate is due to individualize. The activists’ lawyers claim that the charges are based on the testimony of three employees of Hellas gold and on circumstantial evidence such as phone sweeps, and are thus probably fabricated. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has called on the Greek authorities to conduct prompt, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of human rights violations by police in the village of Ierissos during the past month. The organization expressed serious concerns about the reported human rights violations, including random incommunicado detentions, interrogation of minors, forcible collection of DNA samples, excessive and abusive use of tear gas and more.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

On Thursday 21 March, 28-year-old Palestinian refugee Ibrahim Faraz tried to commit suicide in the Drapetsona police station, where he was being held without trial on the charge of being a so-called illegal immigrant under laws established by the government of Greece. Faraz had gone on hunger strike on 14 February together with other detainees to protest the unjustified extention of their imprisonment under inhuman conditions. According to lawyers and anti-racist organizations, the police responded to the hunger strike with repression and beatings and dispersed the detainees in several other police stations, such as the one in Aspropyrgos, where they also received threats. A typical example of this brutality is the fact that, according to accounts from other detainees, when Faraz fainted on the 8th day of the hunger strike, the police guards had him drink shampoo to revive him.
Following these events, a group pf active citizens from Piraeus held on Thursday 27 March a protest and solidarity march. When they reached the Drapetsona precinct, the head of the local police came out in front of the riot police cordon and, after negotiations, allowed a group of 5 protesters to come in and meet with the people held in detention.
According to the testimony of one member of this 5-person delegation, the image the activists found in front of them was shocking. In the Drapetsona police station, 100 people have been held in a 70sqm detention block for over 9 months, since the beginning of the Xenios Zeus sweep operation. The detainees are never allowed in the open, as there is no space for this, since this is the detention area of a precinct. The hygiene conditions are extremely poor, with only two toilets for all detainees, of whom many suffer from skin infections and other diseases due to the detention conditions. The 5-person activist team witnessed a detainee wounding himself and bleeding in a desperate attempt to be taken out of imprisonment and escape the torture to which he has been subjected for 9 months. After this, the head of the local police told this detainee that he would be let free.
Similar cases of detention and imprisonment of immigrants in police precincts, under terrible conditions, have been recently reported in various places around the country.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

On 25 March, the anniversary of the revolution that led to the liberation of Greece from Ottoman power in 1821 and the establishment of modern Greece as an independent State, the Independence Day parades took place under draconian security measures to avoid heckling of government officials.  More than 2500 policemen were deployed in downtown Athens, where riot police buses and crowd control barriers were blocking the lower part of Syntagma square, while access to the upper part was allowed only for those with credentials. Free access to downtown was possible only in a limited number of places. Small protests took place around the no-go area. The Syntagma metro station remained closed until the festivities were over.
In Thessaloniki, the police had taken similarly strident security measures, and did not allow citizens to approach the officials’ stand in a radius of 150m.
There were tension and arrests during the celebrations in Perachora and Loutraki, when the Golden Dawn MP for the region of Corinth, Efstathios Boukouras, sought to lay a wreath at the Independence war memorial. In Perachora, three persons, led by a woman, heckled the MP. The incident was resolved following the intervention of the police.
In Loutraki however, when the same MP sought to lay a wreath under boos and catcalls from the crowd, a young man ran in behind him and took the wreath away. Clashes started within seconds, with the police trying to calm down spirits while the crowd was still protesting.
In the end, the police used limited amounts of tear gas to get the situation under control and proceeded to arrest members of Golden Dawn, while the MP tried to justify their actions. The celebration then continued with another incident, when it was the turn of the head of the local police to lay a wreath. The officer arrived late and, repeating the words « shame, shame », took the wreath and threw it on the memorial, with some citizens cheering and others booing him. The police ordered an investigation into the matter, while the head of the local police was suspended from duty.
There were also incidents in Kozani, when a delegation from Golden Dawn sought to lay a wreath at the local memorial. Communist and anti-authoritarian activists intervened and demanded that the Golden Dawners be led away, chanting “Nazis out.” A strong police force prevented the activists from reaching the memorial, which led to clashes between the police and protesters, after which one person was detained. In protest at the presence of Golden Dawn, national resistance veterans left without laying a wreath.
On the same day, under the pretext that a Turkish soap opera was being broadcast on television, Golden Dawn organized a protest in front of private TV station Mega. The few hundred protesters engaged in various deplorable actions, which reached their climax when the parliamentary spokesman of the party, Christos Pappas, urinated outside the entrance of the building. He then announced it proudly to his audience, who were chanting all together “Death and fire to the Turkish dogs”. At the end of the protest, MPs Ilias Kasidiaris, Christos Pappas and Ilias Panagiotaros bombarded the plate glass windows of the TV station with food items.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

A large student protest took place in Athens on Friday 29 March against the Athena reform plan, which was being voted in parliament. The Athena plan is a project to remodel the map of higher education in Greece by merging departments, faculties and even entire higher education institutions in order to improve cost-efficiency. The higher education community at large has been extremely critical of the plan, saying that the institutions chosen for shutdown and merging were selected on the basis of political clientelism, while many families cannot afford to move their children to other cities across the country due to the crisis.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Newspaper Eleftherotypia reported this week that Greece belongs to the group of European Union countries facing the greatest problem with poverty. Only Bulgaria and Romania are in a worse state in terms of poverty, says the report from Institute for Economic Research, which is based in the German city of Cologne.
The study measures poverty not only according to income, which experts say cannot alone capture the multiple aspects that constitute poverty, but refers to four indicators: at risk of poverty (meaning those who earn less than 60% of the national average), feeling deprived, actual deprivation and the ability to meet household bills.
The report found that in 2010/2011, 26% of Greeks were at risk of poverty, 22.5% felt deprived, 22% lived in deprivation and 27% were unable to make ends meet.
When all these factors are taken all together, Greece came third after Bulgaria and Romania in the IW’s comparison of poverty levels in the EU

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The crisis has led to a rise in incidents of corruption in the public sector and in particular in the police force, according to a publication by newspaper Kathimerini summarizing an internal investigation of the police. The police investigated last year 1060 cases of corruption of which 710  had to do with policemen, marking an increase of 21.5% compared to 2011. Examples include policemen beating immigrants and robbing them or demanding hefty bribes in order not to arrest them. The main other professional group where a rise in reported cases of corruption has been identified is employees of local governments.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

A police manhunt took place in central Greece this week for eight of the 11 men who broke out of the Trikala prison on Saturday after gunmen attacked the guards outside the prison with grenades and automatic weapons. The gunmen outside used two vehicles and “very heavy weapons”, according to the justice ministry. They attacked the prison’s outside guards, as well as a prison patrol vehicle and two police cars. The exchange of fire lasted over a half an hour. Two prison guards were shot and wounded, police said. One of the watchtowers was riddled with bullet holes.
Only three of the escapees were captured by the police.
Shortly after the prison break, guards swept the compound. They discovered mobile telephones and about a dozen makeshift knives. It has been reported in the local media that the escapees used the blades to cut the bars and tied their sheets and blankets to scale down the prison wall.
In a television interview, Minister of Public Order Nikos Dendias explained that the rise in crime is due to the fact that “the country is full of kalashnikovs” because of its long and porous borders, in particular the coastline of Greece which, he claimed, is as long as the coastline of Africa. He announced that the ministry was preparing legislation to transform the police force, while Minister of Justice Antonis Roupakiotis stated that Greece needs to redesign the plan for security at its prisons.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s