NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Cyprus police arrested 13 people after a mob smashed storefronts and set numerous trash bins on fire during an anti-immigration march in the coastal resort city of Limassol, authorities said Saturday.
Police said five people reported that they had been assaulted during Friday night’s march that involved some 500 demonstrators. All five were treated in hospital and released.
Among those arrested was the alleged organizer of the march.
Amateur video broadcast on local news outlets and websites separately showed several damaged storefronts, trash bins burning in the street and a group of protesters chanting anti-immigrant slogans.
The violence erupted only four days after a group of Greek Cypriots wearing hoods and brandishing bats tried to attack protesting Syrians in a small village that has been a hotbed of tensions between locals and migrants.
Police had arrested at least two dozen people in connection with that violence in the southeastern village of Chloraka where parallel protests by some 250 Syrians and an equal number of Greek Cypriots degenerated into violence.
Tensions over a large influx of migrants have been simmering on the east Mediterranean island nation where authorities have struggled to cope with the numbers.
Officials have repeatedly said migrants comprise some 6% of the island’s population, more than five times that of the average in other European Union member nations.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides condemned what he called “images of shame,” suggesting that the violence was the product of a group of petty criminals with no real connection to the migration situation. “What we saw last night had nothing to do with the migration issue and we shouldn’t confuse the two,” Christodoulides told reporters. “If all these people who were involved loved or cared about their country, they wouldn’t have committed such acts which above all heap shame on it.”
The Cypriot president said authorities in the last six months have both managed to significantly curb migrant arrivals and increase repatriations while expediting asylum applications to the tune of 80%.
Christodoulides said the government would “stand by” the owners of the stores damaged in the violence and has called a meeting with police officials to discuss what happened during the march.
Another pro-immigrant demonstration is planned for Saturday evening.