Police brace for Athens rally following clashes

More than 8,000 police will be on duty in Athens today to oversee an anti-war rally organized as part of the European Social Forum, which is expected to attract some 30,000 demonstrators. Central Athens will be virtually closed from early today in anticipation of the march, which is due to begin at 3 p.m. at Pedion tou Areos park and culminate at the US Embassy. A parallel rally is due to begin outside the gates of Athens University at the same time and anarchist groups are planning a third demonstration at Monastiraki so police presence is expected across most of the city center. Yesterday, several members of the European Social Forum were briefly detained following clashes with officers outside a police station in the district of Aghios Panteleimonas. The protesters – who included Italian MEP Giusto Catania, Synaspismos Left Coalition MP Panayiotis Lafazanis and prominent left-wing lawyer Ioanna Kourtovik – claimed to have been subjected to police violence after attempting to enter the police station to protest detention conditions for illegal immigrants. Police issued a statement saying that some 25 protesters had been removed from the police station after «violently storming» the premises, stressing that officers had used only «partial restraint.» Reports said one protester was slightly injured. Commenting upon the incident, government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros said: «Greece is a modern democracy where there is absolute respect for freedom of expression with the basic prerequisite that equal respect is shown for the peaceful expression of views and for the law.»