The footage of police beating a man on Sunday in an Athens square that went viral on social media sparked public outrage and renewed acrimonious exchanges between the government and opposition parties.
Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis pledged that any offenses will be dealt with by criminal prosecution and disciplinary action, saying there “is no excuse for police violence.”
At the same time, government spokesperson Aristotelia Peloni lashed out against the government’s critics, not least opposition SYRIZA, for “investing in social tension.”
“Unfortunately, [SYRIZA leader Alexis] Mr Tsipras is seeking, while hospitals are full, squares of newly indignant people where [safety] measures are not observed,” she said.
While the government has conceded that the footage is unacceptable, a series of statements by government officials suggest it believes that Sunday’s incidents at the central square in Nea Smyrni were not a one-sided affair as a total of 11 police officers were injured in clashes with protesters.
Indicatively, speaking to Skai TV, Interior Minister Makis Voridis questioned the narrative that the man seen in the footage beaten by police was an innocent bystander “who suddenly came under an unprovoked police attack.” “He may have been involved in other incidents,” he said.
However, Tsipras on Monday demanded the heads of Chrysochoidis and the Hellenic Police chief.
“How much longer will you allow this crescendo of police violence and arbitrariness under the pretext of observing the safety protocols that you and your government officials are constantly violating?” he asked in a question addressed to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitstotakis, while urging him to end what he called the heavy-handed tactics of armed police concerning the observance of social distancing by the public.
Similar sentiments were also expressed by Movement for Change leader Fofi Gennimata, who slammed the government as “divisive and provocative with its authoritarianism.”