NICOSIA — Cypriot authorities have okayed an independent investigation into the actions of police accused of using too much force against people protesting corruption and COVID-19 lockdown measures.
Police had used water cannon and tear gas in Nicosia and one woman reportedly needed eye surgery after suffering an injury, leading Attorney-General George Savvides to approve a probe by criminal investigators of alleged brutality.
Savvides would then rule on whether any prosecution is warranted, said the news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) in its report of the incident and aftermath of protests aimed at President Nicos Anastasiades’ government.
Several groups including left-wing activists and trade unions had called for the protest against official corruption after the government ended the Golden Visa program that sold residency permits and EU passports to rich foreigners without properly vetting them for criminal activity such as money laundering.
Demonstrators were also upset over the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has battered the Cypriot economy and brought restrictive lockdowns of non-essential businesses.
As police moved to break up the demonstration, musician Anastasia Demetriadou was knocked to the ground by a water cannon and wounded in her eye, according to her social media.
"Police used a water cannon to attack me because I was dancing peacefully on the sidewalk. I have a serious eye injury and I need surgery, but I don't regret anything!" Demetriadou wrote on Facebook. She posted a picture of herself with a black eye.
An AFP journalist who witnessed the incident said Demetriadou had been dancing during the protest on a major avenue in central Nicosia and she and other protestors were shouting and gesturing at the police but were not throwing anything when the water cannon hit her in the face, knocking her to the ground.
Seconds later, after fellow protesters dragged Demetriadou around a corner and out of range of the cannon, more than 20 riot police charged to chase protestors down the street where she was lying, the news agency added.
Police later told AFP that 10 people had been arrested for "public affray and causing a disturbance" during the protest, which was held in defiance of coronavirus restrictions, the aggressive police action shared on social media, drawing anger.
Police spokesperson Christos Andreou told the Cyprus News Agency that the investigation would ensure an "objective and impartial" of what happened and .
Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis said the police had not been instructed to use force.
"Extreme behavior has no place in the police and the investigation will be thorough. Officers found to have committed such acts will be held accountable," Yiolitis told reporters later.
"Yes, there is a ban on demonstrations, but this does not mean the police can respond with violence,” she added.
Alexandra Attalides, a former European Parliament press attache who attended the protest, told the Financial Mirror she believed police had been "there ready for a conflict, rather than being there to supervise the event and keep the peace".
The police said a water cannon was used after protesters started "throwing stones and other objects" at officers.
An AFP journalist saw dozens of riot police and the water cannon deployed from near the beginning of the initially peaceful protest, where children and disabled people were present.
Some protestors later threw oranges and water bottles after being forced down a side street by police, the report also added.