More sweeps in central Athens

Authorities conducted a second day of controversial sweep operations in the center of Athens yesterday, leading to 37 arrests, as the city’s mayor, Nikitas Kaklamanis, called on the government to tackle the problem of rising crime in the downtown area. Special police squads spent much of Thursday and yesterday stopping and searching people in central Athens. Officers stopped 181 people and 18 vehicles. Of those arrested, 27 were immigrants who did not have documents, six were in possession of drugs and four were suspected of being prostitutes. Police also assisted workers from the City of Athens and Athens Prefecture in removing squatters from downtown buildings. Local authorities had sealed off one of the properties on August 6, as it was deemed unhygienic and unsafe, but the doors had since been forced open and, according to officials, a number of people were living inside in squalid conditions. A total of 44 people were removed from the buildings that were checked yesterday and authorities said they intend to continue such operations. The practice of removing squatters, who are mostly immigrants, from abandoned buildings in central Athens was criticized earlier this month when it emerged that a 3-year-old Afghan boy had been raped while sleeping in a square just days after his family had been thrown out of one of these properties. Immigrant rights groups accused authorities of not offering the evicted temporary accommodation and of failing to even record their details so that social services could follow up and check on the conditions in which they are living. Yesterday’s operations came as Kaklamanis made it clear that he feels the municipality does not have the resources or the authority to tackle crime in the city center. «Safety in the center of Athens is an issue for the government of the time to tackle,» he told Skai radio. «Unfortunately, the local government does not have the authority to do so.» Authorities have been under pressure for some time to deal with rising crime and degradation in the area around Omonia Square. Following consultation with various bodies, including the City of Athens, the government is expected to present its plan for increasing safety and reviving the rundown parts of the city center later this month.