Polytechnic crisis defused, hostages freed

Up to 100 people, including two Socialist former ministers, were released early yesterday morning after being held by dozens of anarchists at Athens Polytechnic for almost seven hours following a fracas involving rioters and police guards, in which a youth was shot in the leg and an officer was badly beaten. Police said the trouble began on Tuesday evening when a group of around 40 anarchists entered the Polytechnic – formally known as the National Technical University of Athens – grounds in Exarchia and threw stones at two official cars used by PASOK MPs Evangelos Venizelos and Christos Verelis, who were there for a book launch. The police guard attached to Verelis, a former transport minister, tried to stop the rioters by firing his gun in the air several times, according to officers, injuring 28-year-old Giorgos Chiliarhos in the shin. The policeman, Christoforos Patsias, was then attacked by the mob, suffering head and body injuries. Both were quickly taken to hospital and are out of danger. The mob, which had grown in size, barred some 100 people at the function from leaving the premises. Riot police surrounded the complex and used tear gas against anarchists who had set fire to rubbish dumpsters and cars on surrounding streets. A long standoff ensued. In a statement, the anarchists claimed Patsias had targeted some of their comrades intentionally. The Polytechnic’s ruling body said the incident was reminiscent of the 1967-74 dictatorship, and called for the «perpetrator of this murderous act» to be punished. By law, police are not allowed onto university grounds without special permission, following the military junta’s storming of the Polytechnic complex in 1973, when tens of pro-democracy students were killed. The standoff ended at around 4.30 a.m. when the anarchists were allowed to leave without being arrested. The people who had been trapped inside the building also walked away unscathed, including former culture and justice minister Venizelos, who explained how he had passed the time. «We had a political discussion. We discovered a level of dissatisfaction and disappointment which nobody can ignore,» he said. Police have launched an investigation into why the guards were on the Polytechnic premises and bearing arms, and what led to shots being fired.