G-8 Protests Prompt Row Between European Neighbors

July 7, 2008 - 8:09 PM

Athens, Greece (CNSNews.com) - A diplomatic incident has occurred on the sidelines of the G-8 summit, with complaints from Greece about the treatment of Greek anti-globalization protestors at the hands of Italian police.

Twelve protestors and a policeman were injured when baton-wielding police attacked Greeks trying to disembark from a ferry at the eastern Italian port of Ancona, on their way to Friday's summit in Genoa.

Three busloads of left-wing demonstrators, including many protest leaders, were prevented by the police from leaving the ship. About 50 protestors who had already done so were pulled out of coaches on the quay and forced back onto the vessel.

Officials in Athens were furious. "We wish to express our strong displeasure at the brutal treatment by Italian police forces of Greek citizens inside a Greek ship," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis. "We will seek immediate clarifications from the Italian authorities."

Foreign Minister George Papandreou had spoken to his Italian counterpart ahead of time on the matter, while the embassy in Rome had also made arrangements for the Greeks' arrival. Nonetheless, the protesters - whom the Italian police described as dangerous - were sent back home on the same ship.

Another 3,000 Greek protesters did manage to arrive in Italy Thursday.

Greek and Italian authorities are understood to have cooperated ahead of the Genoa protests.

But government spokesman Dimitris Reppas denied reports that Athens had provided Rome with information on potential troublemakers. "No list with names of Greek citizens was sent to any Italian state authority," he said. "I state this emphatically and categorically."

The opposition New Democracy party expressed its dismay at the Ancona incident.

"It is inconceivable that Greek citizens who wanted to demonstrate peaceably should be manhandled and prevented from entering a European town," said spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos.

Scores of people demonstrated outside the Italian Embassy in Athens, and further protests are planned for Friday night.

Ordinarily, Greeks are free to travel to Italy, as both European Union member countries are signatories to a treaty which lifted border controls between signatory states.

But ahead of the G-8 summit, Rome temporarily suspended its implementation of the Schengen Treaty, to allow tight security checks on incoming demonstrators.

Following violent demonstrations at an EU heads of state meeting in Sweden last month, European leaders called for greater cooperation between governments to prevent troublemakers from traveling to summits with the intention of disrupting them.

An opinion poll published in the daily Greek newspaper Ta Nea found that 54 percent of Athens residents supported the anti-G-8 demonstrators, with more than half of them saying they would like to have joined the protests themselves.

"It is true that romantics and utopians as well as extremists exist among the demonstrators ... but European governments should not underestimate the wave of criticism that is emerging," the newspaper commented.