ATHENS – Accused of losing control of a COVID-19 lockdown that led to violent demonstrations that saw police accused of brutality and an officer seriously injured in a riot, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he will reform the force.
Mitsotakis proposed that police officers carry body cameras as well as improved training and psychometric tests for new police recruits, said the news agency Reuters.
His New Democracy government faces charges from rival parties and critics of letting police use brutish attacks and run amok against people upset with tightened health measures aimed at slowing the spread of the Coronavirus.
A police officer was suspended after being captured on video using an iron baton to beat a man who said he was only questioning why people were being fined 300 euros ($350.60) for sitting in a square while violating the measures.
That led to a later melee which saw some 5,000 protesters return and hundreds attacking squads of police in a frenzy of violence that led to one officer being pulled off his motorcycle and almost beaten to death.
Greek authorities are investigating complaints of police violence but the incident gave major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, during whose tenure police squashed anti-austerity protests, to say police had gone too far.
He blamed Mitsotakis and the government for vacillating policies alternating between easing and toughening health measures that have seen people frustrated over what to do and the Premier accused of being flummoxed.
Tsipras said Mitsotakis, who ousted his rival in July 7, 2019 snap elections and moved to restore law and order after anarchists had run wild under SYRIZA’s reign, was trying to establish a police state, said Reuters.
Tsipras said Mitsotakis, who has taken his party to big leads over SYRIZA in polls, was a “blatant failure,” as COVID-19 cases, deaths and critically patients on ventilators were rising again now.
“You are beating the young generation at universities in the morning and at parks in the evening,” Tsipras said. “You have the audacity to claim that protests are the reason for the course of the pandemic.”
That was in reference to new laws tightening security on college campuses after the government ended an asylum law restored by SYRIZA which prevented police from entering school grounds except for serious incidents.
Mitsotakis denounced the beatings and said it was SYRIZA urging people on and to violate rules against public gatherings as the health crisis was worsening and tempers flaring.
There have been thousands of protests in Greece since a former PASOK Socialist government in 2010 asked for an international bailout of 110 billion euros ($131.49 billion) that turned into three for 326 billion euros ($389.68 billion.)
Those came with harsh austerity measures that regularly drew anti-government demonstrations against PASOK, New Democracy and SYRIZA, the bailouts not ending until Aug. 20, 2018, the economy still under siege.
Greece’s Ombudsman said complaints against police have been rising during the three lockdowns as the pandemic passed a year since it began and thousands of businesses on the brink of failure and fear of joblessness rising.
Compounding the potential for trouble has been street protests in support of terrorist killer Dimitris Koufodinas who has been on hunger strike more than two years demanding a prison transfer from central Greece to Athens.
He has legions of backers who believe his disbanded Nov. 17 terrorist group was right to kill 23 people, 11 of them at his hand, because it was done for the cause of ridding Greece of a US military presence.
Ironically, Tsipras – who vowed to take Greece out of NATO and boot a US Naval base from Souda Bay on Crete but did neither – tightened relations with America and reached for a bigger military presence although his party is riddled with terrorist and anarchist sympathizers.
With Koufdoninas’ health said to be worsening although he was given an IV for fluids after he refused to drink liquids, police are preparing contingency plans if he dies, fearing violent protests flaring anew.