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Disquiet over extremism after Greece killing

Disquiet over extremism after Greece killing Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou (r) with AKEL's Andros Kyprianou

By Stefanos Evripidou

THE murder of left-wing Greek musician Pavlos Fyssas in Athens, allegedly by a member of far-right group Golden Dawn, has sparked concerns that rising extremism is not being adequately addressed in Cyprus.

Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou yesterday vowed that police would investigate material collected by opposition AKEL leader Andros Kyprianou on racist, xenophobic and extremist activities taking place in Cyprus, including alleged evidence that summer camps had been turned into armed military exercises.

Nicolaou said at first glance, the material appeared to contain information that could very well merit a police investigation.

He visited Kyprianou yesterday to collect the information personally after coming under fire from certain quarters for not taking a clear enough stand against extreme nationalist activities in Cyprus.

The issue of extremist organisations with possible links to neo-Nazi groups abroad arose following the murder on Wednesday in Athens allegedly by a member of the far right Golden Dawn (Chyrsi Avgi) party in Greece.

Golden Dawn is widely seen as the sister party of far right group ELAM in Cyprus, raising concerns that similar acts of violence could be repeated on the island if the issue of rising extremism in Greece, and possibly Cyprus, is not being adequately addressed.

ELAM is a registered party which fields its own candidates in elections, holds marches every so often against the employment of foreigners in Cyprus and has recently organised stalls offering free food and school equipment exclusively to people of Greek or Greek Cypriot origin.

In a letter to the justice minister, Greens MP Giorgos Perdikis questioned the situation in Cyprus regarding issues of racism, xenophobia and extreme nationalism. The minister came under flak from some commentators for the tone of his reply.

In a letter sent to Politis yesterday, Nicolaou acknowledged that his reply to Perdikis lent itself to misinterpretation, creating the impression that such phenomena do not exist in Cyprus.

What he was trying to say, said Nicolaou, was that there was no specific evidence that could be used in court to link any organisation in Cyprus with racist or xenophobic action. But that does not mean such incidents do not exist, or that the government was not aware of certain attitudes.

Possibly to make amends for the overly “bureaucratic” letter, Nicolaou arranged to visit the AKEL leader yesterday to collect evidence on certain dubious activities.

Kyprianou said he handed over photographic material and other information collected from various sources on activities carried out by organisations “that pose a risk to Cypriot society, in a similar way to what is happening in Greece”.

The opposition leader said he had evidence that summer camps had been converted into military camps with participants taking part in military drills.

According to sources, the photographic evidence reveals that guns were being used in the “summer camp” military drills.

Speaking after the meeting with the minister, Kyprianou said: “The information I have given confirms first and foremost the relationship between these organisations and Golden Dawn, and with neo-Nazis in Germany.”

Regarding allegations of military exercises taking place at summer camps in Cyprus, Kyprianou argued this should cause concern for everyone.

“(These are) military exercises which in my opinion no normal person- unless they had other aims and intentions – would take part in during a summer camp,” he said.

The AKEL leader reminded that since 2010, he has repeatedly warned about the growth of extremist elements in Cyprus.

“And I was mocked for what I said. Some had even told me I was chasing ghosts and that such things do not exist in Cyprus.”

Kyprianou said certain quarters had moved opportunistically, “with ulterior motives, perhaps for vote-chasing or political motives” to exploit extreme incidents recorded in Cyprus in the last few years. “And I’m sorry to say, that includes the head of the Church”, he said in reference to a comment made by Archbishop Chrysostomos II two years ago that he shared the views of ELAM on illegal immigration.

“And I had warned back then that if we continue to give support to these people the time will come when we will mourn victims in Cyprus. We saw it happen in Greece, I hope we can avoid it in Cyprus,” he added.

Nicolaou said he would request from the police “a full and speedy investigation” of the photographic and other material received, noting that “from the material given it seems there are issues for investigation by police”.

The minister noted that “the failure to investigate all these activities until now gives the impression that there is tolerance for this kind of activity. They should have been investigated.”

As long as there was material that could be used as evidence of criminal activity in court, the government would “act decisively to send a clear message that this kind of behaviour can not take place”, said Nicolaou.

He added, however: “I cannot say that these elements constitute material evidence to take someone to court and have explained to Mr Kyprianou the possibilities that exist for investigation.”

In comments made to state broadcaster CyBC, Defence Minister Fotis Fotiou said Nicolaou was right to investigate the allegations made by Kyprianou.

“We don’t want to see what’s happening in Greece happen also in Cyprus… But it appears until now at least there has not been the same type of extreme situations in Cyprus as there has been in Greece,” said Fotiou.

Head of the Citizens’ Alliance Giorgos Lillikas said yesterday that during the election period, a leading member of Golden Dawn came to Cyprus to attend an ELAM event, and he was the only one to condemn it.

When he received personal attacks from the organisation, “No political party in Cyprus spoke up”, said Lillikas.

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