Government seeks more powers to police protests

The government is preparing legislation that would give authorities greater powers in the policing of public demonstrations and in obtaining the details of Internet bloggers who have previously remained anonymous, ministers told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

In what appears to be the consequence of the recent violent clashes between small groups of rioters and police in central Athens as well as the persistent protests by the so-called Indignant, the government is seeking to beef up the powers at its disposal to pursue those who it deems to be inciting violence.

Citizens? Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis said that among the measures likely to be adopted is the installation of video cameras on police motorcycles and cars so that authorities can identify troublemakers more easily. The government is also examining the use of water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse rioters, Papoutsis told Parliament?s transparency and institutions committee.

The government, he said, is aiming to redraft the law on public gatherings to give the police greater authority to intervene if small groups of people are blocking traffic or preventing citizens from going about their normal business. ?We have to modernize the legal framework so that the freedom to congregate does not lead to central Athens being paralyzed each time,? said Papoutsis.

The proposals are likely to meet with a substantial degree of opposition given that the police were heavily criticized for being heavy-handed during recent protests. Papoutsis said that the government would be setting up a service for citizens to register any complaints about police behavior.

PASOK is also likely to draw criticism for its proposal to give authorities power to unmask anonymous bloggers and to obtain information about Internet users if they suspect them of being involved in crimes. ?The Internet has to stop harboring hooded assailants,? Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou told the same parliamentary committee.

Some bloggers and social media users were already suggesting last night that such a measure would severely impinge on the freedom of expression and would allow authorities to persecute people for their political beliefs.