Greek parliament approves plan for police at universities

·2-min read
University students protest in front of parliament as lawmakers debate the plan to create a special police force to patrol universities

The Greek parliament on Thursday approved a plan to create a special police force to patrol university campuses, despite sometimes strong opposition from students.

The functioning of Greek universities has been disrupted for decades by clashes and violence against staff, often blamed on youth organisations affiliated with leading political parties.

In October, there was uproar after the rector of the Athens University of Economics and Business was assaulted in his office by a group of hooded youths and forced to wear a sign around his neck that read 'Solidarity to sit-ins'.

Drugs and firearms have also on occasion been found stashed on university park grounds.

However the conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been accused of authoritarianism over the plan to create a dedicated 1,000-strong force to patrol campuses.

The main opposition leftist Syriza party has branded the measure undemocratic.

On Thursday the ruling New Democracy party MPs backed by a small nationalist party backed the measure by 166 votes with 132 MPs opposed

Deputies from the centre-left Kinal and leftist Syriza opposition party, along with the communist KKE voted against the draft law which they said runs counter to the European principle of self-management of universities.

While the debate was ongoing in parliament a crowd protested outside, condemning the move as "antidemocratic".

Police put the number of protesters at a thousand.

"It's not the police entering the universities, it's democracy," Mitsotakis told the parliamentarians.

"A way to close the door on violence is to open the path to freedom," he added.

In Greece's second city Thessalonika protesters and police clashed, according to the Greek news agency Ana.

On Wednesday some 5,000 students protested in Athens against the special police plan, the biggest such gathering yet.

Riot police used tear gas to disperse a small group of protesters in front of the parliament building and skirmished with club-wielding demonstrators who tried to break through their line on Wednesday.

Twenty-four were arrested for possession and use of explosives, according to a judicial source.

The authorities said three policemen were injured in the violence while the organisers said four protesters had been hurt.

The issue of police entering universities is highly sensitive in Greece, where memories of student beatings and killings by security forces during the 1967-74 military dictatorship are still raw.

Greece remains under a national lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with movement restricted between regions and people required to give a valid reason for leaving their homes.

The planned special police force will comprise 1,000 officers who will not carry firearms but will be equipped with batons, tear gas, and anaesthetic gas.