Migrants amid central Athens battleground

More than a dozen police officers were injured on Saturday during several hours of clashes in central Athens that were prompted by an attempt by extreme nationalists to attack migrant squatters, which highlighted Greece’s growing immigration problem. Several dozen members of the neo-Nazi Chryssi Avgi (Golden Dawn) attempted on Saturday to storm the old Court of Appeals building on Sophocleous Street, which has been taken over by several hundred migrant squatters. Holding aloft banners bearing slogans such as «Foreigners mean crime,» several extreme right-wingers threw rocks at the building. Several of the 500 or so immigrants inside responded by throwing back bits of masonry. Several people were injured before riot police fired tear gas to disperse the attackers. Anti-racism groups staged a counter demonstration nearby, leading to clashes with the police and several more injuries. Police said that nine officers were hurt as rocks, pieces of wood and Molotov cocktails rained down on them. One protester was arrested near Kaningos Square and is due to appear before a prosecutor today. Another three people detained were released later the same day. Saturday’s incidents came after authorities announced plans to begin clearing migrants out of the old appeals court and possibly move them to a former military base west of Athens. The plan has met with the opposition of local officials in Elefsina as well as human rights groups. The clashes also come at a time when more immigrants than ever before are trying to get to Greece illegally. Figures published by Sunday’s Kathimerini show that 146,337 migrants were arrested last year crossing into Greece, mostly by boat. During 2008, a record number of traffickers, 2,211, were also caught. The same year, Greece ordered the expulsion of some 88,000 people but only 18,000 were actually expelled, according to police figures.

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