Violence erupts at rally in Greece against new protest law

Violence broke out in Athens during a mass demonstration against a new law to curb public protests, leaving six police officers injured

ATHENS, Greece -- Violence broke out in Athens late Thursday during a mass demonstration against a new law to curb public protests, leaving six police officers injured. A group of protesters hurled gasoline bombs at riot police outside parliament, while police responded with tear gas and flash grenades.

Police said they arrested nine people and detained 15 others were for questioning. Demonstrations held in Athens and dozens of other Greek cities and towns to oppose the plans by the center-right government.

The bill was approved by 187-101 votes in parliament.

More than 10,000 protesters had gathered in central Athens, many supporting a labor union backed by the Greek Communist Party. A separate group of several dozen youths was involved in the violence that sent other demonstrators, including families with young children, scrambling to move away from the clouds of tear gas. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ year-old conservative government said it is determined to stop small protest gatherings from disrupting traffic and commercial activity.

“The right to hold peaceful gatherings must be protected ... but it must be done in a way that will not interrupt the activity of an entire city,” Mitsotakis told parliament on the second and final day of debate.

Critics of the proposed reforms include the Athens Bar Association and parliament’s own legislative review committee. They argued that plans to prosecute protesters attending unsanctioned rallies and to hold protest organizers responsible for damage caused if rallies turn violent are legally troublesome.

The government said it added several clarifications to the bill to address those concerns.

Opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, who was prime minister in 2015-2019, accused the government of introducing the measures to allow heavy-handed policing. He predicted the pandemic-driven recession would trigger large labor protests in the fall.

“You fear what is coming — the reaction of society, the anger of society — and that is why you are preparing to give us repression,” Tsipras told parliament.

Greece is expected to suffer a major recession this year due to the impact of the pandemic, losing 9% of its annual output, according to European Union projections. ———

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