Greek islanders stage new protests over migrant camps
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Lesbos Island (Greece) (AFP)
More than 1,000 people rallied on the Greek island of Lesbos on Thursday to protest against new migrant camps, a day after violent clashes left more than 60 injured, mostly police officers.
Lesbos businesses and unions called for a general strike on the island to continue, with shops shuttered for the second day in a row.
Wednesday saw violent clashes over the construction of new migrant camps on the islands of Lesbos and Chios, over the fierce opposition of local residents, with hundreds of angry islanders throwing stones at police who responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Late Wednesday, the Greek government said that hundreds of anti-riot police who had deployed to the islands to ensure the construction work could continue were leaving.
"The overwhelming majority of riot police left the islands on Thursday morning," police spokesman Thodoros Chronopoulos told AFP.
"Forty-three officers were injured slightly on Lesbos on Wednesday... but they are not in any danger," the spokesman said. Three had foot injuries from rifles fired by local residents, he said.
After weeks of fruitless talks with island officials on where to build the new facilities, the government had on Monday secretly shipped construction machinery and hundreds of riot police to Lesbos and Chios, causing outrage.
- Overcrowded camps -
The Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios, Leros and Kos have been at the forefront of the migration crisis for the past five years, with residents long complaining that the presence of thousands of asylum seekers threatens safety and public health.
More than 38,000 migrants are crowded into the islands' camps despite an official capacity of just 6,200.
The islanders say they will only accept small facilities where asylum-seekers are screened and then either moved to the mainland or sent back to Turkey outright.
The conservative government which came to power in July has announced that the camps on Lesbos, Samos and Chios will be shut down this year, to be replaced with new facilities that are to be operational by mid-2020.
On Leros and Kos, existing facilities are to be revamped and expanded.
Local authorities have rejected the government's plans to build the new camps to replace currently overcrowded facilities where asylum-seekers live in dire conditions.
But the government says that the new camps, where entry and exit will be tightly controlled, will actually address most of the islanders' concerns by ending a currently "chaotic" situation.
- Appeal for calm -
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has called for calm and invited the islands' mayors and the North Aegean governor to talks in Athens later on Thursday.
"Construction work has already begun... the new camps are a long way from urban regions," the premier insisted on Wednesday.
Chios mayor Stamatis Karmantzis stressed the need for dialogue.
"A truce is needed," he told Greek radio on Thursday, indicating that he would travel to Athens to meet Mitsotakis.
© 2020 AFP