Street protest limits shape up

Police headquarters sent out a circular to all its offices across Athens yesterday informing law enforcement how they should keep small-scale street protests under control in a move aimed at helping to ease the city’s massive traffic problems. In a meeting held at the Public Order Ministry in November, it was decided that roads will not be blocked by demonstrations in which less than 500 people are participating. «After the meeting held on November 27… it was established that there exists a broad consensus from businesses and workers who also had a positive stance on the initiative,» Chief of Police Anastassios Dimoschakis told Kathimerini. Shopkeepers in the city center have welcomed the idea, saying protests harm tourism and commerce. Transport experts have also backed the motion, saying that any traffic disruptions in the city center have wider repercussions on the entire city. Left-wing opposition parties, however, stayed away from the November meeting, saying that the measure harms the democratic right to demonstrate. In order for the measure to succeed, cooperation is required with the organizers of any protest. According to the circular, police will contact rally organizers on the eve of a planned demonstration and if the estimated number of participants is less than 500, they will be required to stick to a single traffic lane. Organizers will also be called on to address protesters either at the beginning or end of the march in order to avoid causing traffic problems. Police data show that in the 12-month period ending August 31, 2006, there were 776 demonstrations held in Athens. Of these, 618 were in the city center and stopped the circulation of traffic.

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