Park row is gathering pace

Residents who live next to the Pedion tou Areos, one of Athens’s largest parks, vowed yesterday to continue their opposition to what they claim is the illegal expansion of a sports club after three demonstrators were arrested by riot police on Sunday. The three campaigners were released from custody yesterday. They have been charged with civil disobedience and causing damage to property after attempting to plant trees in front of the Panellinios sports club as a symbolic protest. A prosecutor dropped charges of causing damage but the three will have to be questioned about the disobedience allegation. The protesters claim that Panellinios illegally encroached on parkland between 1996 and 1998. Members of the Struggle to Save Pedion tou Areos also point to a ruling by the town-planning office in 1998 that deemed that the expansion of the sports grounds had been illegal. The ruling also called for the new constructions to be knocked down. «Panellinios has been illegally expanding for many years but has never been punished,» campaigner Iraklis Panagoulis told Kathimerini. «The gate, in front of which we wanted to plant the trees, is also illegal. Trucks pass that way every day, next to the playgrounds where our children play.» Panellinios is one of Greece’s oldest sports clubs and is owned by Minos Kyriakou, who is president of the Hellenic Olympic Committee and the owner of ANT-1 TV and Radio stations. The protesters heavily criticized the intervention of the riot police and accused officers of being unnecessarily heavy-handed as the protest was peaceful and had been attended by elderly people and children. The Athens-Piraeus Prefecture, which is responsible for the park, said it had not called in the riot police. «We had no part in this,» said the prefecture’s general secretary, Fotis Apostolopoulos. «The incidents were unacceptable and we are astonished by what happened. We had told the security guards not to prevent the rally.» Public Ministry sources suggested that officers at the nearby Kypseli police station called in the riot squad.

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