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Citing Pandemic, Greece Bans Protests for a Week

January 26, 2021

ATHENS –Greece’s center-right government on Tuesday imposed a weeklong ban on public protests attended by more than 100 people, angering left-wing political opponents.

By decision of the Chief of the Hellenic Police, as of January 26, 2021, at 06:00 until 06:00 on February 1, 2021, all public open-air gatherings of more than 100 people are prohibited throughout the country, according to an announcement.

The announcement added: "This is not related to any planned rally, and it also does not concern the presence of citizens in shops, stores, etc."

"This is a suggestion of the competent National Committee for Public Health Protection, which in order to formally come into force, as provided by current legislation, requires the issuance of a decision by the Chief of the Hellenic Police."

The decision announced by the police as part of a campaign to contain the coronavirus pandemic carries fines of up to 3,000 euros ($3,650) for individuals involved in organizing the rallies and 5,000 euros ($6,070) for protest groups.

The ban follows student demonstrations against plans by the government to police university campuses. Clashes between protesters and police have broken out at some recent rallies.

"The police ban of public gatherings of over 100 people at a time when the government is implementing a series of measures that provoke justified reactions, such as as the education ministry's plan (for police in universities), is a political choice and a confession that autoritarianism and suppression are a permanent ingredient of its policy," said the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) in a statement issued on Tuesday.

"The rest, regarding the protection of public health, are just fictions when the government is itself responsible for not ensuring the protection measures in work places, schools, means of public transport and elsewhere, and when it has been proved that rallies are not responsible for spreading of the virus as the first to abide by the protection measures are those that demand them, namely the students, the teachers, the pupils and their parents," concluded KKE.

Main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance, in an announcement on Tuesday, noted that "the self-evident observance of protection measures and avoidance of overcrowding cannot serve as a government pretext for arbitrary and anti democratic decisions."

In addition, SYRIZA accused the government of treating the pandemic not as an issue of public health but as an opportunity to engage in suppression and "for continuing with panicked moves to lie and hide behind the [committee of health experts] at the same time that it refuses to take the obvious measures for tackling the pandemic".

According to the party, such measures included action to make public transport safer and less crowded, ensuring compliance with protection measures in workplaces, which account for the majority of new cases according to the International Medical Association president, and real support for the public health system, with the hiring of doctors instead of special police guards. It also called for measures to economically support workers and businesses.

"As long as Mitsotakis refuses to make the minutes of the scientists' committee public, he confirms that he is making decisions in their absence," the main opposition party said.

Police decision to permit gatherings of up to 100 eases restrictions, Economou says

The decision by the Hellenic Police to permit public gatherings of up to 100 people is an easing of the restrictions for Covid-19 and not a further restriction, Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Lefteris Economou said on Tuesday, in a statement to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA).

Economou reiterated the clarifications of the Police that the measures was not taken in response to planned rallies, such as an education-sector protest rally on Thursday, nor people doing their shopping in high streets.

He pointed out that restrictions and bans on public gatherings have been in place since last May for serious public health reasons and to limit the spread of Covid-19, whichcalled for the suspension or restriction to nine or 50 people (depending on the situation) of public outdoor gatherings, as provided for in Article 11 of the Constitution (on the right to peaceful assembly).

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