Bitter political clashes erupt over responsibility, perpetrators of violence at anti-Prespa pact rally on Sun.

22 January 2019
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Fallout continued on Monday over the previous day’s mass rally in downtown Athens against the Prespa agreement, with the leftist Tsipras government pointing to “far right” elements behind the short-lived but violent scenes directly in front of the Parliament building.

Conversely, the political opposition and rally organizers heatedly charged that the disturbances were caused by provocateurs, with the intention being to provoke riot police to fire tear gas – something that would cause a disruption or even the protest’s unceremonious end. Riot police did, in fact, liberally spray roughly two dozen club-carrying and rock-throw masked protesters with tear, although nary an arrest was made of the actual troublemakers scene on television footage in scores of photographs, some taken only meters away.

The government, echoing a police estimate, and the opposition also clashed over the number of participants at the rally. Authorities put the crowd at 60,000, while organizers cited up to 200,000 people during its peak.

Political parties opposed to the Prespa agreement sharply criticized the use of tear gas, with the Athens Medical Association’s leadership also saying a lawsuit will be filed against the officials responsible for the gassing and the dangers posed to public health. AMA president Giorgos Patoulis, a candidate with ND for the greater Attica prefecture, in fact, addressed the rally.

Rally organizers later issued a statement saying that the Tsipras government “chose not to protect Greek citizens assembling peacefully and holding only Greek flags… rather, amid a ridiculous provocation staged by a small group, unleashed a direct and murderous attack against the people

On Sunday evening, the prime minister’s office directly blamed members of the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn for the violence and an “organized” attempt to break into Parliament, an account mostly accepted by the pro-government press the same evening a day later. Similar comments were made by Parliament President Nikos Voutsis and Public Order Minister Olga Gerovassili, both top SYRIZA MPs, with the latter also challenging main opposition New Democracy (ND) party and its president, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to condemn the “far-right” violence and the injuring of police officers and photo-journalists.

In response, Mitsotakis did not mince his words:

“The Greek people spoke, and we all must hear their voice, with Mr. (Alexis) Tsipras and his willing Prespa agreement supporters first and foremost,” he said, adding that “responsibilities will be assigned for all the things that happened … which aimed directly at disrupting the rally”.

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