Locals in Exarchia protest crime

Residents and store owners in the Exarchia district in central Athens say they are preparing a series of protest actions to draw attention to spiraling crime in their area, chiefly blamed on members of local anarchist groups and drug addicts. The first protest rally is planned for 5 p.m. today in Exarchia Square. From there, demonstrators plan to march to Patission Avenue, where they plan to block the road. Residents accuse police of failing to curb attacks and vandalism in the area due to fear of reprisals by anarchists. Another scourge, they say, is the flourishing local drug trade and the growing number of drug addicts in the area. «One day when a drug addict passed out in the street, I called emergency services but the ambulance came after three hours and the police didn’t show up at all,» said Georgia Blani, the leader of a local residents’ group. Such incidents occur virtually every day and police are loath to approach Exarchia, she says. Another local resident claims that he called the police after crashing his car in the area but was told that a police car would not be sent to Exarchia. In their defense, police argue that local anarchists are looking for opportunities for clashes and try to lure them into the area. Many officers claim to have received fake emergency calls aimed at luring a patrol car into a dark alley in Exarchia where assailants can attack the vehicle or the officer. As a result, many officers say they wear plain clothes and do not circulate in police patrol cars but civilian vehicles. «A police patrol car in Exarchia is like a red flag to a bull,» an officer said. But he added, «that does not mean that we do not intervene when necessary – it is simply a case of assessing the seriousness of the situation as is the case in every Athens district.» Local store owners also insist on action to protect their premises from vandalism, saying that they will sue the state if they do not get additional protection. «We pay taxes and municipal duties so the state should do the job it is being paid to do – otherwise it should give us our money back,» one local shopkeeper said.

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