A top prosecutor in Thessaloniki has summoned the local police chief and mayor as well as residents opposed to a controversial gold mining project in Skouries, near Halkidiki, for joint talks on Friday after residents complained of police heavy-handedness on Thursday, when officers fired tear gas in the nearby village of Ierissos.
The prosecutor, Panagiotis Giannakis, hopes to diffuse some of the tension created after residents of Ierissos set up a roadblock to stop police from entering the village after five people were arrested in connection with a recent arson attack at the mine.
Video footage aired on television showed hundreds of residents at the roadblock where tires were set alight, creating thick plumes of black smoke. Police responded by firing liberal amounts of tear gas. According to the testimony of some local residents, tear gas was fired into the grounds of a local school, causing several schoolchildren to be hospitalized with breathing problems. In comments to Skai TV, an angry local woman brandished three tear gas canisters which she claimed police had thrown into the school yard. Another resident said that officers had stopped and questioned minors in connection with last monthís attack on the premises and vehicles of the Canadian-owned Hellas Gold mining company in Skouries.
The police issued a statement denying that tear gas had been fired directly into the school, saying that chemicals had been used only to clear a roadblock preventing police from reaching the village.
The unrest on Thursday prompted an exchange of barbs between the government and the main leftist opposition SYRIZA party in Parliament later in the day with the latter referring to excessive police violence.
The Skouries project has fueled furious protests by locals and activists who say the mine will cause environmental damage. Other locals who back the project due to the jobs it would bring claim to have been threatened by activists.