ATHENS – Video showing police assaulting COVID-19 lockdown demonstrators in the capital's neighborhood of Nea Smyrni brought outrage from citizens and rivals of the New Democracy government which had been lenient in enforcing the measures.
Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis said there will be a review of action by the police who said they had been attacked by a small group but video showing they were the aggressors, leading to another bigger protest rally there later in the day on March 7.
He said that there “is no excuse for police violence,” but government spokeswoman Arisotelia Peloni blasted critics, especially the major opposition SYRIZA who she said was “investing in social tension.”
“Unfortunately, (SYRIZA leader Alexis) Mr. Tsipras is seeking, while hospitals are full, squares of newly indignant people where (safety) measures are not observed,” she said, the government criticized both for being lax and tough.
Trying to deflect criticism of police brutality, some government officials said 11 police officers were injured in the brawl, suggesting that demonstrators also ma have been agitators, the video showing that largely wasn't so.
Interior Minister Makis Voridis told SKAI a man seen in the footage beaten by police wasn't an innocent bystander “who suddenly came under an unprovoked police attack,” and “may have been involved in other incidents,” offering no proof.
Tspiras, who during his 4 ½ years in office before being ousted in July 7, 2019 snap elections utilized police to crush anti-austerity rallies and other protests this time demanded the firing of Chrysochoidis and the Hellenic Police chief.
“How much longer will you allow this crescendo of police violence and arbitrariness under the pretext of observing the safety protocols that you and your government officials are constantly violating?” he asked of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Tspiras had earlier complained the government was failing in handling the COVID-19 pandemic and now said he was upset they were trying to deal with it by being tough against the health measures violators.
The center-left Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Fofi Gennimata, whose party is politically irrelevant, blasted the government as “divisive and provocative with its authoritarianism.”