Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Anarchists clash with Athens police over Obama visit

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

ATHENS, Greece - Police battled with anarchists late into the night following two marches protesting against US President Barack Obama’s visit. Police estimated that as many as 150 anarchists were involved in the clashes. They responded to rocks and Molotov cocktails with teargas and stun grenades.

“A march by PAME [the communist party labour union] ended peacefully. A second march pushed up against a police cordon and protesters threw two Molotov cocktails,” an Athens police spokesman told Al Jazeera. “That’s when the clashes began.” 

By late at night, police had confined the violence to the area of the Athens Polytechnic – a campus anarchists have used in the past as a safe haven from police, who aren’t allowed onto university grounds without a request from the chancellor. Police said there were no injuries or damage to private property.

Some 8,000 protesters walked through central avenues chanting slogans against the European Union, NATO, and the International Monetary Fund, a staple of leftwing marches.

Leftists normally hold an annual protest march outside the US embassy on November 17, to commemorate the crushing of a student uprising by a military dictatorship in 1973; but Obama’s arrival two days earlier has extended the festivities.

The last time a US president came to Athens 17 years ago, violent protests again marred the visit. NATO ended the Yugoslav war in 1999 by bombing Greece’s Orthodox ally Serbia. Anger against NATO’s deployment against a European country and US ally in World War Two fuelled protesters’ anger at the time.

But then-president Bill Clinton defused the tension by apologising for US support for the military dictatorship that crushed the Polytechnic uprising. “When the junta took over in 1967 here, the United States allowed its interests in prosecuting the Cold War to prevail over its interest – I should say obligation – to support democracy, which was after all the cause for which we fought the Cold War. It is important we acknowledge that,” he said to thunderous applause.

Earlier in the day, President Obama and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras exchanged complimentary remarks. “In the economic crisis of 2008, [President Obama] led the US economy on a completely different path to that chosen by Europe,” Tsipras said. “Eight years later, the results are more than visible.”

“I know this has been a painful and difficult time, especially for Greek workers, pensioners, and young people,” Obama said in his prepared remarks. “I’ve been clear from the beginning of this crisis that in order to make reforms sustainable, the Greek economy needs the space to return to growth and start creating jobs again. We cannot simply look to austerity as a strategy, and it is incredibly important that the Greek people see improvements in their daily lives.”  

The leftwing government in Greece has touted Obama’s visit as a vindication of its efforts to deliver social justice and keep society stable, as austerity policies have led to an economic depression. Obama was due to address the Greek people on Wednesday.

Many Greeks feel that had Obama’s visit come sooner in the economic crisis, it might have helped more. “The fact that Obama is choosing to visit Greece helps Greece,” says Aristotelis Tsiampiris, international relations expert at Piraeus University. But I’m not going to hold my breath that two months before he exits the White House, magically he’s going to resolve the debt crisis, the immigration crisis and everything else that is ill with Greece. That is not going to happen and could not have happened.”

Donald Trump's election in the US also weakens Obama's hand. The Democratic Party won't be in power come January. Nonetheless, many people here hope that Obama’s presence will lend weight to his message of support for Greece.  

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