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Disturbances outside Parliament, tear gas-reaction by riot police mar otherwise peaceful anti-Prespa rally in Athens

Disturbances marred a large protest rally on Sunday in downtown Athens to express opposition to the Prespa agreement, with riot police using tear gas to block several dozen protesters from reaching the front of the Parliament building.

Extensive use of tear gas, however, was sharply criticized by the opposition and rally organizers, who said the aim was to disburse a mostly peaceful protest in Syntagma square against the agreement, which aims to finally resolve the fYRoM “name issue”.

Police put the number of rally participants at roughly 60,000, while organizers said it exceeded 150,000. Authorities also said 10 riot police officers were injured during the disturbances, which occurred around the parliament building, which faces Syntagma square.

A later statement by the prime minister’s office directly blamed members of the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avgi) for the violence, “citing masked thugs throwing rocks and using clubs to attack police and send dozens to the hospital”.

Police sources, according to a dispatch circulated by the state-run news agency, also blamed right-wing supporters for the disturbances, saying it was not possible for “Antifa” protestors to reach the area. A counter-demonstration was held a few blocks away for self-styled anarchists and anti-state protesters against the much larger rally.

A later statement by police referred to “organized groups” causing the disturbances.

Nevertheless, police handling of the violence was itself criticized, with outspoken main opposition New Democracy (ND) MP Adonis Georgiadis taking to Twitter to charge that “the release of chemicals (tear gas) into a square with such a high density of people is a real provocation. They (police) intentionally allowed left 50 masked (troublemakers) get close to them in order to have a reason to use chemicals. The SYRIZA government showed its true anti-democratic face. Shame!”  

In an equally scathing reaction, but from the opposite political spectrum, former Parliament president and one-time SYRIZA MP and now scornful critic Zoe Konstantopoulou tweeted:

“Shame. Chemicals and enforcement against a peaceful demonstration by people of all ages. Exactly what they did in 2011 with the indignados (anti-austerity protestors at the time).

According to unofficial police estimates, 326 coaches from around Greece reached the greater Athens area with people headed for the rally.