Fighting on the beaches

A group of security guards came to blows yesterday with municipal employees and bathers at Hellenikon, southern Athens, while trying to remove a banner calling for free access to the beach in a dispute on which the government has so far refused to intervene. The group of some 30 guards, carrying batons, attempted to remove a sign at the beach which read: «The beach has been won with effort. We take care of it like our homes,» claiming that it had been placed there illegally. They also installed a cash register at the beach entrance to charge visitors an admission fee. The guards were allegedly acting on behalf of a private operator which until recently had the rights to manage the beach and charge bathers to swim there. The owners of the company claim to have secured a license to operate the beach from the state sports secretariat, which formally has jurisdiction over the area, but the enterprise has since been removed by the municipality and residents that argue their business is illegal. Two municipal employees and bathers saw the security guards and were trying to stop them when skirmishes broke out, resulting in the injury of two women. «They hit two of our co-workers and injured two elderly women by knocking them against a wall,» said Hellenikon Municipality employee Zoe Michelis. Police made no comment over the punch-up. Hellenikon Mayor Christos Kortzidis, who recently went on a hunger strike to keep the beach public, told Kathimerini that with the help of residents the municipality will try to keep access to the beaches free of charge. Kortzidis called on the government to take a stance on the issue. Replying to questions on Skai Radio yesterday, Tourism Minister Fanni Palli-Petralia said residents should have free access to the beach and that is why the area will be included in plans to turn the capital’s old airport into a large park. However, she did not comment on the feud that has broken out between the municipality and the private operator.