Migrants clash with police in central Athens

Police clashed with hundreds of Muslim immigrants in central Athens for a second day yesterday in an escalating protest at reports that a policeman had defaced a copy of the Quran during a routine inspection earlier this week. An estimated 1,500 demonstrators, mostly immigrants from Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, hurled sticks and stones at police officers in full riot gear who had been stationed outside Parliament yesterday afternoon. Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades. In the escalating unrest, which saw several store facades smashed, parked cars overturned and traffic lights vandalized, one officer and four protesters were said to have sustained minor injuries. More than 15 protesters were arrested. The demonstration followed a less violent protest that broke out near Omonia Square on Thursday in the wake of reports that a policeman had torn up a copy of the Quran and then stamped on it during a routine inspection conducted on four Syrian migrants in the city center. After word spread about the alleged incident, local migrant groups organized the protest. Later on Thursday an Afghan national was arrested in the run-down Athens district of Aghios Panteleimonas after allegedly throwing a firebomb at a police station, causing limited damage but serious injury to himself. The Muslim Union of Greece, which represents thousands of immigrants in the capital, said that it had taken legal action against the unidentified policeman alleged to have defaced the Syrian’s copy of Islam’s holy book. Police said an internal investigation had been launched. Meanwhile, in a related development, Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis welcomed a proposal by Athens Prefect Yiannis Sgouros to purchase the building of the old Athens appeals court in the city center where hundreds of illegal immigrants have been squatting for the past six months.