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article imageAnarchist protests put Greece's radical leaders in a bind

By Sophie Makris (AFP)     Apr 5, 2015 in World

Greek anarchists are needling the country's new far-left government with a series of high-profile occupations in support of jailed radicals.

The anarchists stormed parliament on Thursday and even occupied Syriza's own Athens headquarters when the party's new spokeswoman was on air giving her first interview.

But despite the protesters throwing party officials out of the building in early March, they refused to call the police since Syriza had strongly criticised the "brutal" way riot police had handled anti-austerity protests while it was in opposition.

Anarchists also took control of Syriza's radio station, "Sto Kokkino" (In The Red), for nearly a week, before taking over Athens' law school for five days.

Since last Monday they have occupied the administration tower of Athens University, a prestigious building in the centre of the city.

The nationwide protests have now begun to follow a ritual, with buildings occupied for long enough to grab headlines before activists move on to new targets.

And with every occupation Syriza has found itself over a barrel, unwilling to sanction police action against the anarchists who are demanding the repeal of anti-terror laws and the freeing of Savvas Xiros, a bombmaker from the November 17 revolutionary group, who is said to be in poor health.

A group of anti-establishment protesters hold a banner on April 1  2015 outside the Greek Parliament...
A group of anti-establishment protesters hold a banner on April 1, 2015 outside the Greek Parliament in Athens
Kostis Ntantamis, AFP

The anarchists have also demanded the closure of the controversial C-type jails, where the country's most notorious criminals and terrorists are held.

Syriza has already announced that it will scrap the jails, where activists claim prisoners from revolutionary groups are held under an unnecessarily harsh regime and allowed no contact with their families.

But that is "not enough", one militant taking part in the occupation of Syriza's radio station told AFP. Despite the current cabinet's anti-establishment roots, "today it's (acting like) a government, period."

"The anarchists are doing so many of these provocations because they see the government hesitating to respond forcefully in fear it will be accused of acting the same way its predecessors did," says Theodoros Papatheodorou, a university professor and former junior education minister from a centre-left party.

"They are exploiting that weakness."

- 'Where is the state?' -

But there are signs government patience with the protests is finally wearing thin. The prolonged seizure of the Athens' administrative building since March 30 prompted exasperated employees to stage a march last Wednesday outside their occupied offices.

Students gather if front of Athens University occupied by anti-establishment protesters on April 2  ...
Students gather if front of Athens University occupied by anti-establishment protesters on April 2, 2015
Louisa Gouliamaki, AFP

"This hasn't happened for years now -- not in this manner," said university vice-rector Thomas Sphicopoulos of the occupation. "We can't work, and the university was already in a very difficult situation due to budget cuts."

Other demonstrating employees were more pointed in their anger at the government for not intervening.

"Where is the respect for liberty, and where is the state?" fumed one university staffer who asked to remain anonymous.

"The state is there, and it's negotiating," a government official told AFP. "A police operation will only increase the tension. We are looking to ease it."

But faced with the rising challenge from the revolutionary left, the government appears to be increasingly divided.

After protesters stormed parliament on Thursday long enough to unfurl a banner, the government issued a statement condemning what it called a "provocative and incomprehensible" outrage.

Around the same time, however, the Syriza speaker of parliament Zoe Konstantopoulou dismissed the intrusion as a simple "protest" by a small group of "citizens".

But the next day the Minister for Citizens' Protection Yiannis Panousis fired off an angry article in the Ta Nea daily, appearing to take aim at party colleagues "who think a leftist government means a defenceless country and city", and at "purists of the left who call anyone who doesn't please them 'a fascist'".

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