Protests facing limits

Public Order Minister Vyron Polydoras wants a public discussion on how authorities can limit the problems caused by the hundreds of demonstrations in Athens every year. In a letter sent yesterday to opposition political parties, business leaders and municipal authorities, Polydoras says he wants a meeting at the beginning of September that would assess how to handle protest marches. «I believe that the conditions are ripe and that we will find common ground,» the minister told Kathimerini. «We can reach an agreement that will be in everyone’s favor and rid the city of the dysfunction which arises in these circumstances,» Polydoras added. Demonstrations in central Athens happen nearly every day, according to police figures. Protesters voicing their concerns on issues such as education, labor relations and foreign policy often block off roads to vehicles and public transport, miring the capital in traffic congestion. According to police, there were more than 900 marches in Athens between January 1, 2005 and June 30, 2006, a figure which translate into 1.65 protests per day. In the last two years, police recorded 651 gatherings of less than 200 people. Police officials say that apart from creating chaotic conditions in the city center, demonstrations also damage Athens in other ways. For instance, during demonstrations, police said they noticed more crime around the city because criminals knew police were distracted by the protesters. Also, ambulances have a hard time getting around because of the traffic congestion. Polydoras wants to begin talks by examining whether small demonstrations or marches can be restricted to one traffic lane so the entire road does not need to be closed. Opposition parties have slammed the idea, which they say violates people’s constitutional right to demonstrate. PASOK MP Evangelos Venizelos said that a well-organized police force should be able to juggle its responsibilities. The Communist party (KKE) responded by sending back the meeting request and describing the measure as unacceptable.

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