By Peter Stevenson
PARLIAMENT resembled a battlezone on Monday as protestors from the Electricity Authority (EAC) clashed with police while deputies inside the building discussed the bill for the privatisation of semi-governmental organisations.
Two people were injured and taken to Nicosia General Hospital during the trouble outside the House.
Strikes are due to take place on Tuesday with those EAC employees responsible for power supply due to join their colleagues in the protests. This will mean power cuts during the day around the island.
Employees from semi-state telecoms company CyTA announced they would be taking part in a three-day strike beginning on Monday at midnight and ending on Thursday at midnight.
The decision was taken after a meeting on Monday afternoon between the five trade unions which represent the company’s employees.
All CyTA shops will be closed during the three day strike with only essential services operating in accordance with the law. Telecommunications and other services provided by CyTA are not due to be affected.
Trouble started outside the House of Representatives at around 10am on Monday when EAC employees sabotaged the building’s generator causing a blackout and essentially locking deputies and House employees inside as entrances are electronically controlled.
Outside, a strong police presence and a number of road blocks were not enough to withstand protestors’ rage as they fought their way to Parliament’s entrance.
At around 11am the House finance committee meeting which had convened to discuss the privatisation bill and the source of the protests was moved to the second floor of the building amid safety concerns. Present at the meeting was Finance Minister Harris Georgiades and representatives from legal services. Attorney-general Costas Clerides was not at the meeting after his car was attacked by protestors as it was attempting to enter the House, forcing him to perform a u-turn and leave.
Inside the House officers from the rapid response unit were in full riot gear in case any of the protestors managed to gain entrance to the building.
Thousands of protestors shouting ‘sell-outs’ and verbally abusing MPs clashed with police resulting in people from both sides being injured.
Firecrackers, fruit and other objects were thrown by protestors while some members of the media who were covering the incident were also attacked.
“I feel disgusted. We know who has led us to this state but we also know who is trying to pass this bill. It is unacceptable, not just for the people who have gathered here to protest but for everyone who wants to be treated fairly,” one protestor said.
According to reports AKEL and DIKO MPs Giorgos Loucaides and Angelos Votsis were on hand to try and calm EAC employees down. Police estimated that between 2,500 and 3,000 people were outside the House.
“We feel bitterness towards the politicians, they don’t keep their promises. Especially (President Nicos) Anastasiades who had given us a written guarantee that the EAC would not be privatised,” another protestor said.
The government condemned the episodes outside the House. In a statement, the government said it respect peoples’ right to protest but will not tolerate “anarchic attitudes which create a climate of terror”.
“Vandalism inside and outside Parliament and jeering MPs cannot and will not be tolerated. The President has called for an inquiry into the shortcomings and inadequacy shown by the police in maintaining public order and safeguarding the functioning of the House,” government spokesman Christos Stylianides said.
The government expressed its commitment to continue its economic recovery programme, because “that is the only way to return the country to growth”.
DISY chairman Averof Neophytou on his Twitter account placed a large portion of the blame on the police for failing to control protestors.
“People should have the right to express themselves but they do not have the right to behave in a manner which is outdated. The police are heavily responsible. Parliament cannot be bullied into making decisions by anyone,” he wrote.
House president Yiannakis Omirou condemned the protests as unacceptable. In a written statement Omirou said that people have the right to protest but not when it violently prevents MPs from performing their duty.
EAC union rep Andreas Panorkos said that protests were aimed at sending a message to Parliament that the bill would not pass as it would mean the price of electricity sky-rocketing. He said more severe measures would be taken in the coming days if employees’ demands to scrap the bill were not met.
The unions said that strike action would only be lifted if their demands to guarantee worker and pension demands were met and their obligatory participation in any procedure to privatise the organisation was adopted.
From Tuesday, the EAC said, there would be power cuts and a programme of which areas would be affected and at what times would be published on the authority’s website here.
The transmission system operator (TSO) Christos Christodoulides told state radio that efforts would be made to limit the disruption.
He said that safety personnel would be working in cases of faults or emergency.
Industrialist Union OEV’s general manager Michalis Pilikos said that EAC employees do not have the right to leave people without electricity. He said that employees have the right to protest but they should not cut the power because the public, which is not to blame, will suffer.
Employees from CyTA also took part in a one-hour work stoppage on Monday morning between 9am and 10am in protest at the privatisation bill.
The bill needs to be approved by March 5 to ensure Cyprus receives the next instalment of the bailout from its international lenders.
Left-wing unions also announced on Monday that they would be organising a mass protest on Thursday outside the House during the Plenum session which is due to vote on the privatisation bill.
EAC website eac.com.cy