ATHENS - A heavyweight slugou started in Greece's Parliament where Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis took on major opposition SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras in a debate over a riot over COVID-19 health restrictions that saw squads of police tangle with hundreds of protesters.
Incidents saw police claiming they were attacked as they tried to ticket violators in the neighborhood of Nea Smyrni in Athens but video showed it was police beating one man and inciting violent responses later.
The officer in the video was suspended and the New Democracy government promised an investigation into alleged police brutality but suggested SYRIZA forces pumped up the trouble and Tsipras is trying to capitalize.
The government said he essentially urged further protests in violation of measures banning demonstrations without police permission and against the rules of a third lockdown.
A rally after the incident drew some 5,000 people and saw Molotov Cocktails tossed at police who responded with a water cannon and stun grenades, turning the area into a battle zone.
One police officer was pulled off the back of his motorcycle and kicked repeatedly, said to have suffered serious but not life threatening injuries, captured on video and photos.
Mitsotakis said SYRIZA and Tsipras, reeling badly in polls, are trying to use the incidents to rise after Tsipras failed to make inroads in accusing the Premier of mishandling a response to the pandemic.
Tsipras said Mitsotakis was blaming him to hide the “incompetence of his government,” setting the stage for political fisticuffs in the Parliament where the government has a majority of the votes.
The Leftist leader also claimed that Mitsotakis knew that violent forces would take over the rally that turned into a riot but wanted to blame it on SYRIZA and let it unfold despite what turned into ugly scenes.
SYRIZA cited an article by Kathimerini which reported that police knew that troublemakers from four different groups were preparing to join forces with the intent of attacking officers.
The article also said that Hellenic Police (ELAS) sources confirmed that dozens of posts on social media networks showed that hooligans played a central role in the violent events.
“Despite the fact that Maximos Mansion (the Premier's office) knew about the hooligans' violent meeting . .. it orchestrated the targeting of SYRIZA and its political opponents instead of ensuring the safety of thousands of peaceful protesters,” the party also said in a press release.
“It is clear that Mr. Mitsotakis' main concern, who was obviously informed by the authorities about the mobilization of the hooligans, was not the prevention of violent incidents…but the assignment of responsibilities to his political opponents,” the Leftists added of the clashes that saw 16 people arrested there.
Mitsotakis: Our enemy is the coronavirus
"The citizens understand who is investing in the idea of unity and who is stoking social tensions," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday in parliament, in reply to a question raised by main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras.
Rejecting the criticism levelled against the government, Mitsotakis stressed the need for society to pull together in the "crucial weeks that lie ahead of us".
"Rage cannot be blind. You, Mr. Tsipras are not my enemy. Our enemy is the coronavirus. In times like these, societies need unity, solidarity," he said.
"You had the opportunity to rise to the occasion and do what you hypocritically stated you are interested in, Mr. Tsipras. Instead, I counted the word 'accuse' 17 times. I return the accusation because you embody hypocrisy," the prime minister said, and added: "I will talk about the great danger of some turning the pandemic against health into a danger against society and exploiting the 'incendiary fuel' of the weariness with the restrictive measures, which we all admit are necessary. To light a fire that will torch social unity."
"The coronavirus pandemic is being addressed in our country," Mitsotakis continued, presenting comparative data on the management of the pandemic in Greece versus the rest of Europe. "Every day there are 35,000 vaccinations that rank Greece in 5th place among European countries. We can safely tell the Greeks that the end of this ordeal is now is sight."
However, "until that time the mutations make the virus more dangerous. It is necessary to wear masks, maintain social distancing, avoid unnecessary congestion and observe personal hygiene."
"In terms of mortality, Greece has the 4th best performance in Europe. It is unacceptable at a time when the country is preparing to open up and welcome tourists in the summer, for you to come and discredit the country's effort," the prime minister added, and accused Tsipras of expressing a small minority that wants hostility and division.
Tsipras: Prime Minister "Choosing tension and division"
Μain opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras attacked Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis through his speech in parliament on Friday, during a discussion on Tsipras' question regarding recent incidents of police violence, accusing the prime minister "of choosing tension and division" as a main strategy.
Tsipras began his speech by expressing his support for all the citizens that have been suffered "police arbitrariness" while wishing a speedy recovery to the policeman who was injured, as Tsipras said, "by hooligans" in Nea Smyrni.
SYRIZA's leader said these were "heinous phenomena" that "cannot be tolerated by any democratic citizen," underlining that it was the responsibility of the state and "objectively, the responsibility of the government" to guarantee the social peace for both citizens and police.
"Today, after all the things that have happened in the last few days, I am not here only to ask questions. In the context of parliamentary scrutiny, I not only question but also accuse you," said Tsipras.
"I accuse you because, at the most crucial moment for Greek society, when the citizens are under pressure, weary and despairing due to the pandemic, you attempted to shirk your responsibilities by choosing tension and the division as your main strategy," the main opposition leader said, while also referring to the management of the pandemic and speaking of "failure" with "tragic results".