By Constantinos Psillides
POLICE Chief Michalis Papageorgiou was given the sack on Thursday in the wake of a violent protest by far-right ELAM at an event being attended by former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in Limassol.
President Nicos Anastasaides, in a written statement read out by Government Spokesman Christos Stylianides expressed his “sorrow and abhorrence for all the deplorable and unacceptable acts that took place” during the event jointly organised by the Technological University of Cyprus, the Office of the European Commission in Cyprus and Europe Direct, and at which Talat was a speaker.
Around 100 members ELAM disrupted the event, shouting slogans and holding Greek flags outside the Panos Solomonides municipal cultural centre just before the event was scheduled to start at 7pm.
They managed to enter the lobby and hurled a flare inside the hall. A Turkish Cypriot journalist who tried to take photos was slightly injured when scuffles broke out with police whose presence at the event was inadequate.
It was reported that although the Limassol police knew that ELAM would protest at the event, only six police officers were present. Papageorgiou admitted that when the tip about ELAM came in he was asleep and was informed about the incident after it took place.
“The deputy chief was notified about possible ELAM presence at the event. The information was evaluated and based on that the police decided how many police officers would be there. After the events I was briefed and I exchanged a number of phone calls with everyone involved, including Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou. My phone is available to anyone who wants to check my incoming and outgoing calls,” he said earlier yesterday.
However in his statement, Anastasiades clearly laid the blame on Papageorgiou for not taking adequate precautions and wasted no time in sending a letter to police headquarters giving him the sack. In the letter, Anastasiades referred to a host of acts and omissions on the part of the police leadership that led to the events in Limassol.
Anastasiades said that taking into consideration “a series of other actions and omissions by the chief of police” he had decided to fire him. He referred to the chief’s lack respect for decisions of the institutions of the Republic, including decisions of the courts and the Ombudsman’s recommendations and accused Papageorgiou of performing his duties inadequately “in relation to the clampdown on serious crime and the promotion of real security of citizens.”
Later in the day at a lengthy news conference, Papageorgiou said: “They wanted to get rid of me since before the elections, as far back as February 2013. They were just looking for the right opportunity”.
Papageorgiou is being replaced immediately by Chief Superintendent Zacharias Chrysostomou, who was Director of the Police Academy.
Anastasiades, who called Talat on Wednesday night to apologise, has asked for an immediate investigation to bring the culprits to justice.
A man and a woman were arrested later on Wednesday night – after but not during the protest. They were charged in writing and released. Thursday afternoon warrants were issued for two more people, one of whom was arrested last night. More warrants were on the way, Limassol police said.
“I want to make clear that the state will not accept any form of fascist behavior, from whatever quarter, particularly an overwhelmingly small minority group that declares itself as the alleged protectors of the Greeks of Cyprus,” said the president’s statement.
“Actions which are not confined within the right of the freedom of speech but extend to acts of violence and give rise to a fascist attitude under the pretext of patriotism, are not only condemnable but are also damaging to the security and the best interests of Cypriot Hellenism.”
The president also ordered an investigation into claims by Turkish Cypriot reporters that they were assaulted and had their camera stolen from them.
“I want to reiterate to all the people of Cyprus and more specifically to our Turkish Cypriot compatriots that the main concern of the Government and all political forces is to achieve conditions of peaceful coexistence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots as part of a solution which will ensure full human rights and democratic functions of a full member state of the European Union,” Anastasiades said.
Exiting the conference room on Wednesday night, Talat said that what happened at the event was contrary to any attempt at creating a culture of peace for a viable solution of the Cyprus problem. “Our goal should be to isolate these extremist activities. Fanaticism exists in all levels and should be dealt with. We must succeed at this because if we let them win then solving the Cyprus problem will be an unattainable goal,” he said.
Some Greek Cypriots who spoke at the conference also apologised to the Turkish Cypriots. After the conference, the 35-member Turkish Cypriot group, which participated in the event, returned to Nicosia escorted by MMAD officers.
Present at the event was also US ambassador John Koening, who tweeted afterwards: “Real story happened inside the hall. Cypriots talking about the future. Extremists couldn’t block dialogue.”
ELAM’s spokesman Geadis Geadi said that the protest was symbolic and that as long as there was occupation, refugees and missing persons in Cyprus “we will be against them”.
In an official statement on their webpage, ELAM denied that any violence took place, claiming that it was “all in the mind of people, who in their attempt to hurt our movement resort to propaganda tactics”.
ELAM also claimed that their issue was with Talat, who they say was once a member of theTurlish Cypriot paramilitary organisation TMT.