May Day traffic woes

Four separate May Day demonstrations staged by rival labor unions wound through central Athens yesterday, all ending up outside the Israeli Embassy where Tel Aviv’s policies against the Palestinians were roundly denounced, as was government labor policy. The marches caused considerable traffic problems in the capital, as most forms of public transport were on strike during the morning rush hour. The junction of Alexandras and Kifissias avenues was particularly badly affected, while traffic jams spread down major avenues to other parts of the center. Yesterday’s strike was called by the country’s two largest private and public sector unions, GSEE and ADEDY, in defiance of a government decision to hold an official May Day holiday next Tuesday, so as not to spoil what is traditionally one of Greek shopkeepers’ busiest days. The biggest of yesterday’s marches, organized by the Communist-sponsored PAME organization and numbering some 3,000 people, marched from Syntagma Square to the Israeli Embassy. Along the way, demonstrators rooted out an armed, plainclothes police officer in their midst. They proceeded to beat him up and removed his gun, police identity card, student ID card, mobile phone and wallet – all of which were handed over to the officer in charge of security arrangements after the march. PAME members claimed policeman Christos Yiannakoulis, 23, drew his gun on them when they started to hit him on the corner of Vassilisis Sofias Avenue and Semitelou Street. They accused police of adopting «terrorist tactics.» Yiannakoulis was saved from further injury by a uniformed colleague who appealed to the demonstrators for mercy. A second demonstration organized by ADEDY, GSEE and the Athens Labor Center (EKA) went from the American to the Israeli Embassy, with some 400 people in attendance. Another two marches by far-left groups joined them there, where PAME demonstrators burned images of US President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. PAME then issued a resolution condemning Israel for its attacks on the Palestinian territories. ADEDY, GSEE and EKA issued resolutions seeking government action against unemployment, and demanding a 35-hour working week without salary reductions.