Launch of debate on education fuels protest

As MPs began a parliamentary debate on proposed constitutional reforms that would allow the creation of private universities in Greece, thousands of lecturers and students marched through central Athens protesting the planned changes. Some 7,000 protesters, including striking public sector workers, joined two rallies that were marred by outbreaks of violence. Riot police fired tear gas at protesters who tried to break through a police cordon outside Parliament. Officers also fired tear gas at suspected anarchists who hurled petrol bombs at police. Eight people were detained after a giant banner was unfurled across the front of Constitution Square. Meanwhile, the government struck a cautious stance, determined not to provoke further tensions. Education Minister Marietta Giannakou refrained from joining the debate in Parliament. As for Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, he told the president of a parliamentary committee on educational affairs that he was «determined to make the planned changes,» adding however that he would seek «the greatest possible consensus through dialogue and without rash moves.» PASOK MP Michalis Chrysochoidis reiterated his party’s support for change but contrasted PASOK’s vision of private universities «operating alongside state institutions» to ND’s concept of «two parallel worlds competing against each other.» The Communist party and Synaspismos Left Coalition reiterated their opposition to planned reforms. Today protesting students are to stage sit-ins at dozens of high schools and universities across the country as university staff convene to plan further action.

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