Sabtu, 24 Maret 2012

Around the horn in Greece

Locals protest detention center in northern Greece [update]

Residents of a northern Greek town erected barricades and vowed Friday to man them round the clock to prevent authorities from turning a disused army base into the country's first major detention center for illegal immigrants.
Using mechanical diggers, truck tires and mounds of dirt, protesters cut off access to the army base to prevent crews from starting work on converting the facility.
The protest by residents of Neapoli, a town about 40 kilometers from the Albanian border and near the town of Kozani, came a day after Civil Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis announced the base would start operating as a detention center for 1,000 illegal immigrants by mid-April.
Greece is the European Union's busiest transit point for illegal immigration, and the problem has emerged as a key issue in general elections expected in late April or early May. The country has often come under fire for the conditions in the temporary holding centers for illegal immigrants near the Turkish border and on Greek islands.
Chrysochoidis' announcement Friday also marked the launch of a two-year plan to build similar facilities in all of Greece's 13 administrative regions. While the country already has small holding centers for migrants caught crossing the borders illegally, they are so overwhelmed that migrants are generally only held for about three days before being released with orders to leave the country within a certain time. Few do.
Illegal migrants caught during sweeps in cities, however, end up in police holding cells for lack of specialized facilities. Chrysochoidis said the new centers will be used for migrants who are illegally in the country and are awaiting expulsion, and not for those with legitimate asylum claims.

But local authorities in Kozani oppose the proposed new center, describing the plan as an «election stunt."
The army base, which local residents say has been empty for about three years, stands just outside Neapoli. Protesters argue there is not enough time to convert it into a detention facility with livable conditions by mid-April, and say plans to initially house the detainees in tents are unacceptable.
"They want to create a hellhole. We will have people next door to us who are suffering,» said Theoklitos Iotis, deputy mayor of Voio, an area which includes Neapoli. «How many of them will last under the sun in 40 degree heat» in the summer, he questioned. «We have sensitivities ... We can't see people suffer."
Chrysochoidis also stressed that debt-strapped Greece could not cope with the strain of caring for the roughly 130,000 economic migrants who cross into the country illegally each year, and said repatriation was a priority.

"The cost of their remaining in Greece is unbearable, both for the Greek economy and for Greek society,» he said during his speech Thursday. «It unduly burdens the social welfare system, public health structures, public order and security, as well as the country's national security."
In Neapoli, local council president Christos Makris insisted the facilities were unacceptable, saying the base's sewage system was designed for a far smaller number of people and would not be able to cope, thereby creating a health risk. He also rejected claims that the center would create jobs for local residents.
"We don't want a single job that gives money based on the pain, misery and death of others,» he said. [AP]


Police on standby for Sunday parades

 Workers on Thursday set up a grandstand outside Parliament from which President Karolos Papoulias and other dignitaries are to watch the annual Independence Day parade on Sunday.
Thousands of police officers are to be deployed in Athens and other major cities on Sunday in a bid to maintain public order during a military parade being held to mark Greece’s Independence Day amid fears of violence or dignitaries being heckled.
Following a recent increase in attacks by angry members of the public against politicians and public figures who have expressed support for the government’s austerity drive, authorities have decided to tighten security in cities where central and local government officials are expected to appear in public. All police vacation has been cancelled for this weekend so that enough officers are available to monitor Sunday’s parade and the traditional march by schoolchildren on Saturday.

Security will be particularly tight in Athens, where President Karolos Papoulias and other dignitaries are to watch the military parade from a grandstand erected in front of Parliament. Authorities fear a rerun of events on October 28, when anti-austerity protesters forced the military parade in Thessaloniki to be called off for the first time since the annual tradition began. Papoulias was heckled by protesters who called him “traitor.”

In many parts of the country, local authorities have taken more radical steps to avert upheaval. There will be no grandstands set up in the central port of Volos and on the southern Aegean island of Rhodes, where local officials were heckled and pelted with cartons of yogurt during a parade earlier this month commemorating the anniversary of the Dodecanese island’s union with Greece.
In Thessaloniki, authorities plan to go ahead with the annual parade by schoolchildren on Sunday. Members of a local group involving local private and public sector unionists said they are planning to stage a protest against the event.

Meanwhile, in the prefecture of Imathia, teachers and pupils are planning a silent protest march to express discontent with the government and its ongoing austerity drive.


Explosive device goes off at ministry building

A homemade explosive mechanism consisting of gas canisters exploded at a building of the Internal Affairs Ministry in Athens in the early hours of Saturday.
The bomb caused some minor damage at the entrance of the building on Ilioupoleos Avenue, south of the center. Noone was injured.
Police specialists have collected the remains of the explosive mechanism to conduct a thorough investigation.
Noone has claimed responsibility for the attack as yet.

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