Police, contract workers clash on the Acropolis

Riot police clashed with a small group of protesting Culture Ministry contract workers at the entrance to the Acropolis yesterday, leading to tear gas being sprayed and one person being arrested in front of the ancient citadel, much to the shock of hundreds of tourists who were denied entrance to the site for the second day running. In unprecedented scenes, riot police moved in at about 10 a.m., using a second entrance to access the Acropolis. They then chased civil servants across the archaeological site after attempting to force them to open the main gate, which they had chained shut since Wednesday morning. The head of the union representing the Culture Ministry’s fixed-term contract workers, Nikos Hasomeris, described the police’s action as «a tragedy and a major crime.» The government, aware that the images of a shut Acropolis being beamed around the world are bad for tourism but also wary of the fact that pictures of clashes in front of the ancient citadel are damaging to PASOK’s image, insisted it had not given the order for the police to intervene. Deputy Culture Minister Tilemachos Hytiris urged the contract workers to come to his office to settle the matter. However, sources suggested that the policeman who entered the ancient site had been ordered to do so by officials at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry. They protesters were demanding long-term status, the immediate payment of up to 22 months of outstanding wages and an end to the law restricting short-term hirings to just 24 months of employment. The previous New Democracy government passed a law that allowed contract workers to be employed for a maximum of two years by a government department, after which they would not be allowed to apply for a job in the same part of the public sector. Hasomeris claims that though only about 30 civil servants took part in the Acropolis protests, some 800 of the 3,500 contract workers at the Culture Ministry are affected by the delays in paying their wages and the threat of losing their jobs when their employment agreements expire at the end of the month. The government said that it has already begun paying workers who had not received salaries for a number of months, however it gave no indication that it would seek to rehire anyone whose contract runs out. The protesters said that they would return to the Acropolis today, in line with their original plan to converge there every day until the end of the month.

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