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Amnesty International condemned the use of “excessive force” by Greek police in suppressing protests against EU-IMF-imposed austerity that happened in Greece on June 28-29. In a statement issued Wednesday (29 June) night, the human rights group described how their supporters had catalogued a series of abuses against the largely peaceful demonstrators in Athens’ central Syntagma Square in front of the national parliament.
“Video footage and witness testimony points to the repeated use of excessive force by police in recent demonstrations, including the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of tear gas and other chemicals against largely peaceful protesters,” the group said in a statement. “Amnesty International representatives present in Syntagma square have witnessed incidents of peaceful protesters being beaten by police officers.”
Throughout the day, riot police numbering some 5,000 fired multiple volleys of tear gas and stun grenades into crowds, including into the metro station where a makeshift medical shelter had been set up.
Hundreds have been hospitalised with respiratory troubles, burns and bruises from the attacks, according to local reports. “Many protesters have reportedly been hospitalised with breathing problems caused by inhaling the tear gas and a number of protesters and riot police officers have been injured,” the Amnesty statement continued.
An unnamed supporter of the group described how the police targetted peaceful demonstrators: “The people have nothing to do, nothing violent. But this is indiscriminate. Listen, I was in front of the medical centre where the police shoot tear gas.”
“This is what we do not understand – why the police are attacking the square inside because nothing violent is happening inside the square,” the female rights monitor said. “Some protesters are violent, but it is in the streets around the square.”
The group’s deputy director for Europe and central Asia, John Dalhuisen, said authorities should not engage in such violence again as protests continue. “The largely peaceful demonstrations of the past two days have been marred again by a minority of rioters clashing with the police,” he said.
“Police have a duty to stop the violence and arrest those responsible, but they must ensure the use of force is proportionate and directed only at violent demonstrators,” he continued. “They must not curtail the legitimate right of the vast majority of peaceful demonstrators to gather and protest in Syntagma square.”
Responding to the Amnesty condemnation, European Commission spokeswoman Pia Hansen on Thursday rejected suggestions that the EU-IMF-ECB troika imposing austerity in Greece bears any responsibility for the disorder. “It is for the Greek authorities to deal with public order. This is not something we have a role on. I have no lessons to give Greece at this point,” she told reporters in Brussels. “We expect what we would expect from any [EU] member state regarding the rights of people to express their views peacefully.”
“Any manifestation of violence is of course regrettable and unacceptable,” she added.
An EU diplomat however was more frank, suggesting that behind closed doors, leaders are indeed worried that Greece is becoming unstable. “We are not very far from a very bad turn in Greek social developments. It is a very grave concern,” said the source.