Massive security operation on Lesvos for Greek PM Tsipras’ visit to crisis-battered isle

3 May 2018
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More than 300 law enforcement personnel will accompany and surround Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday during his same-day visit and address on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos (Mytilene), amid fears of protests by local residents over the ongoing migrant/refugee crisis that has swamped the specific island more than any location in Greece, as well as failure by the current leftist-rightist coalition government to maintain low VAT rates.

Keeping VAT rates low was one of the more prominent pledges made prior to the 2015 election by the current government when it was in the opposition. VAT rates on various eastern Aegean islands will be harmonized at the “Scandinavian” level of 23 percent, as in the rest of Greece, as of July, 1, 2018.

Stores, shops and municipal services are also expected to remain shut in protest to Tsipras’ visit throughout the day.

Tsipras is due to address a 14th consecutive “development conference” organized by his government to promote what it calls initiatives and programs for regional growth around the still bailout-dependent country. He’ll arrive on Lesvos from the nearby island of Limnos, where he will first tour a military airbase.

In unofficial comments to reporters this week, sources close to the prime minister’s office referred to a “risk of provocations” during Tsipras’ presence on Lesvos. The island has borne the brunt of the migrant/refugee crisis that erupted in 2015 – four years after the eruption of the Syrian civil war – with tens of thousands of third country nationals ferried onto Greek and EU territory by people smugglers operating from the opposite Turkish coast.

The massive, by Greek standards, security operation includes an anti-terrorism squad, a bomb disposal unit, a police helicopter and even a mobile electronics counter-measures vehicle. According to reports, the security operation is far greater than the protection afforded to Pope Francis when he visited Lesvos and its capital, Mytilene, in April 2016.

Tsipras and his radical leftist SYRIZA party carried the island in the national election of January 2015 by polling nearly 33 percent of the valid vote; falling slightly to 29 percent only a few months later in September 2015, during a snap poll.

In a bid to defend the unprecedented security measures – which are expected to include the blocking off of roads in the capital city – government sources throughout the week claimed what they said was an “under-the-table” understanding between the main opposition and poll-leading New Democracy (ND) party and the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi) party. Cadres affiliated with the latter have in the past engaged in street brawls and “storm-trooper-like” attacks.

Besides Tsipras, nearly half of Greece’s Cabinet and numerous government and party cadres will travel to the island of the one-day conference.

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