Greek police detain dozens to stop march in memory of slain teen

Students, trades unionists and politicians tried to defy coronavirus-related ban to pay tribute to 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, who was shot dead by police in 2008.

Protesters shout slogans after being detained in Athens during a rally marking the killing of Alexandros Grigoropoulos 12 years ago [Yorgos Karahalis/AP Photo]

Police in Greece’s capital have detained dozens of people who defied a coronavirus-related ban to take part in the annual commemoration of the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a police officer in 2008.

Some 4,000 police officers were deployed on Sunday to prevent gatherings and will continue to do so until the early hours of Monday.

Footage posted online showed riot police on Sunday afternoon entering apartment buildings in Exarcheia, a neighbourhood in central Athens, to flush out would-be protesters. One video showed officers throwing stun grenades inside a building. Another clip showed police pushing photojournalists and other accredited members of the media.

The scenes reminded the heavy-handed tactics adopted by police last month when they violently broke up a peaceful rally commemorating a 1973 student uprising against Greece’s then-military rulers.

As they did before the November 17 anniversary, authorities this week also announced a ban on gatherings of more than four people based on the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But groups of students, trades unionists and leading leftist politicians, some carrying flowers, tried to defy the measure to pay tribute to Grigoropoulos on the 12th anniversary of his shooting death at the hands of police in Exarcheia.

The officer who killed the teenager was convicted of homicide and given a life sentence, but then released in 2019, a decision Grigoropoulos’s family are appealing in the courts.

The country erupted at the time of his killing, with students, left-wing activists and others taking part in increasingly large protests that at times turned violent. Demonstrations and small-scale clashes with police have taken place on the December 6 anniversary almost every year since.

A picture of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, right, at an impromptu shrine at the site of the fatal shooting in Athens 12 years ago [File: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo]

On Thursday, Greece extended to December 14 a second nationwide lockdown imposed last month after a spike in COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm the country’s already strained healthcare system.

By Sunday, the country had registered 115,471 confirmed coronavirus infections and more than 3,000 related deaths.

Political opponents of Greece’s conservative government have criticised it of using coronavirus-containment measures as a cover for imposing increasingly harsh security measures.

Opposition parties on Sunday denounced the police action’s and demanded those detained be released.

Last month, the global rights watchdog Amnesty International said it was “profoundly concerned” about the authorities’ decision to issue a blanket ban on public assemblies.

“Restrictions to the right of peaceful assembly to curb the pandemic are permissible but must meet the principles of strict necessity and proportionality. Governments do not have carte blanche to restrict human rights, even during these difficult times,” said Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty’s regional director for Europe.

Greek authorities have banned all public gatherings and rallies to mark the 12th anniversary of the killing of teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos by a police officer in Athens [Yorgos Karahalis/AP]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies