NEWS

Insecurity reigns downtown and in Menidi in the west

Over the distance of just a few kilometers, Athens changes dramatically. On the one hand are districts where residents enjoy a feeling of security; on the other, crime is a daily phenomenon in what have become virtual ghettos for criminal elements of all kinds. Kathimerini visited three quite different areas – the city center, Menidi in the west, and leafy Psychico. An elderly lady taking a taxi to Socratous Street near Omonia Square to visit her doctor was advised by the driver to find another doctor elsewhere. «Here you have to watch your handbag, lady. It’s dangerous to walk around here even in daylight. It’s full of foreigners and you don’t hear Greek spoken anywhere,» he warned. A different story is told by Telis Economou, who has run a restaurant on Theatrou Square since 1979. «No one bothers me. Both Greeks and foreigners come to eat here and no one cases any trouble. Everything is nice and quiet,» he said. There are cases of bag-snatching and petty theft, but those who work in the district of Psyrri do not feel threatened by gangs or organized crime. «Over the past three to four years, the area around Koumoundourou Square has become full of shops run by foreigners, but we have no crime problem,» said Anastassios Nioras, owner of an ecclesiastical goods store. Antonis Venetis, a baker on Sarri Street, was born and raised in the neighborhood. «Of course it is not the quiet district of my childhood where I used to play ball, but we are not plagued by organized gangs,» he said. The gray face of realism is encountered in Omonia Square, and particularly in Vathis Square. Aki Alili from Albania runs a kiosk on Marni Street and in recent months has has been a daily witness to the passing parade of drug addicts, prostitutes and pimps and feels anything but comfortable. «At night there are fights. No one dares walk by here at night,» he said, pointing to the narrow sidewalk. «The only people who pass by here are the ones who want to buy or sell something, either drugs or women,» said passer-by Costas Vekris. Menidi With just one police officer for every 3,000 people in an area where crime has been rife for some time, it is the feeling of insecurity that rules social life. Menidi, which has always been a down-market area, is home to three or four major drug-dealing centers, where deals are transacted literally under the noses of the few police officers who try to keep some semblance of order. But it is not only the drugs. According to local residents, the presence of drug addicts in the district has led to a rash of petty theft and break-ins. «Despite the courageous efforts of local police, it is not enough to cover the needs of a municipality with 140,000 inhabitants, who include Indians and Pakistanis, most of whom are law-abiding and are in no way responsible for the high crime rate. The only thing we can do is to ensure that stores observe the rules,» said Menidi Mayor Spyros Striftos.