A 54-year-old man was arrested on Monday on charges of being the “moral instigator” behind an arson attack on Sunday on a gold mining project in Skouries, in the northern prefecture of Halkidiki. He was released a few hours later.
Between 40 and 50 people were involved in the raid, which led to four security guards being injured and a number of containers, vehicles and earth-moving machinery being destroyed. According to the guards’ account, the assailants doused them in gasoline and threatened to set them alight before firing guns into the air and then torching the premises.
Lazaros Toskas, a member of main leftist opposition SYRIZA’s prefectural committee in Halkidiki, was detained by police on Monday due to his comments on a blog that opposes the Halkidiki project and his alleged participation in protests opposing the mine. But a prosecutor returned his file to police, describing it as “incomplete,” according to sources. Meanwhile Toskas and three of the security staff who were injured during the assault on the premises of Hellas Gold brought legal suits against each other – the staff against Toskas for allegedly being one of their attackers and Toskas against the guards for slander.
The attack on the mining project promoted criticism from across the political spectrum. The government’s response was firm but cautious. Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias, on a visit to Halkidiki on Monday, stressed that authorities would do everything possible to protect crucial investments. “Greece is a European state of law and order,” he said. “We have a duty to safeguard the foreign investments taking place in the country. Investments are the only way we can confront the huge problem of unemployment."
SYRIZA, which has backed opposition by local residents to the Halkidiki mining project, condemned the arson attack as “unacceptable” but expressed anger at the arrest of Toskas, referring to a “general attempt to stigmatize social struggles.”