Some 100 people that police said were protesting the removal of squatters from a dilapidated building in downtown Athens were arrested by police, leading to another protest at the offices of the Democratic Left (DIMAR) party where demonstrators also had to be removed.
Dozens more activists gathered near the site of the Villa Amalia building that is popular with anti-establishment groups and radical Leftists to show their displeasure at the police actions. The structure was cleared of squatters last month but 150 more re-occupied the site on Jan. 9, forcing police to clear them out again, authorities said.
In retaliation, protesters occupied and unfurled a banner pledging solidarity with the squat at the headquarters of DIMAR, the smallest party in Greece’s government. About 40 people were detained there, police said. A few hours later, police raided another squat a few blocks from Villa Amalia and detained another eight people, after confiscating dozens of empty bottles, gas masks, helmets and chunks of marble resembling those hurled by hooded youths at police during protest rallies from the premises.
Angry youths then blocked the entrance to a ministry where Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was due to hold a news conference, which began after a delay. The Villa Amalia building had hosted cultural events including debates and film screenings and was a hotbed of radical activity and which authorities said had been used to house violent protesters who have taken part in many anti-austerity demonstrations.
Police said they seized wooden sticks, helmets, gas masks and a bottle with flammable liquid when the squat was cleared last month. Reuters reported that the raid turned into a political issue, with the major opposition party the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) accusing the government of making arbitrary arrests and using it to divert attention from the country’s deep economic crisis.
“The government is trying to use the attempted re-occupation of Villa Amalia by a group of anti-establishment protesters to distract the public from the Lagarde list scandal and the harsh bailout policy,” SYRIZA said in a statement, referring to a scandal over a list of possible tax cheats. “For 22 years, no one seemed to care about Villa Amalia. Now this has turned into the number one issue,” it said.
The government has accused SYRIZA of supporting rioters and others who had broken the law. “I wanted to make clear that a democratic society cannot allow unlawful forces to hinder the country’s progress,” said Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, calling the occupation of the DIMAR party a “challenge to democracy.” He added that the government would “not back down on the issue of squats.” Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou accused SYRIZA of “supporting acts of violence and lawlessness”.
(Sources: Reuters, Kathimerini)