A police operation on Friday to eject 14 protesters from Athens University’s central campus after a 19-day sit-in deepened fissures between the hard core and moderate elements of the leftist-led government.
At issue is universities’ right to asylum from police intervention, abolished by the previous administration and currently being reinstated by SYRIZA. The issue has been a bone of contention in the government since the start of the protest, with Alternate Minister for Citzens’ Protection Yiannis Panousis calling for police action and Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis staunchly upholding university asylum. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras eventually gave the green light.
Differences were also apparent after the operation, with SYRIZA’s parliamentary spokesman Thanasis Petrakos saying that “university asylum is non-negotiable.”
SYRIZA MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis defended the decision as “serving democracy and supporting public education,” while Labor Ministry Panos Skourletis said the crackdown was justified due to the small number of protesters.
The harshest criticism, however, came from SYRIZA’s youth wing, which condemned the action as a “concession to pressure from the terror-hysteria of the conservative bloc and pro-establishment media.”
Meanwhile, police sources told Kathimerini that among the 14 people arrested in yesterday’s operation, at least five are known to the authorities for prior crimes.
Most notable is a 37-year-old who was convicted and later released on bail for his involvement in the 2008 kidnapping of a Thessaloniki businessman. He was rearrested after violating his parole in October but was not imprisoned.