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Coronavirus: ‘I’m so exhausted and angry’ – protesters explain why they defied demo ban

protesters and activists clash with riot police during a rally against corruption and covid 19 restriction measures, in nicosia
Protesters and activists clashing with riot police on Saturday (Reuters)

Those who took to the streets on Saturday demonstrating against corruption and pandemic measures did not expect the police to use batons, teargas and water cannon to break up the demonstration.

Eleven months since the pandemic outbreak on the island, the government has enforced a 9pm curfew for the last three months and only allows two outings per day “for a reasonable amount of time”. While several sectors of the economy have reopened, the health ministry decreed a mandatory rapid test for all workers in the private and public sector. Such decisions have raised human rights issues.

“I wouldn’t normally go to the protest. But I am so exhausted and angry that I saw it as a form of stress-release since we don’t have the power to do anything else,” a 32-year-old woman who participated in the “Enough!” protest at 4pm on Saturday in Kolokasi park, Nicosia told the Cyprus Mail.

Her friend, 26, said “we needed to do something about this situation, and this is better than sitting and moaning on the couch.”

Organised by a number of NGOs and left-wing groups who said they represent “workers, the unemployed, students, artists, athletes and sports fans” the plan was to host a three-hour protest march against what they described as the government’s corruption and authoritarianism.

The protest was carried out despite a ban on mass gatherings, including demonstrations imposed last November.

Young men and women were violently thrown on the ground, beaten up with batons and arrested for no apparent reason, eyewitnesses said. Others were injured from the teargas cannister thrown by police and the use of the water cannon.

Pictures showed a man lying on the street with three officers on top of him, one of whom had his boot on the protester’s neck. Another man on rollerblades was shown in a video talking back to the police and more than ten officers pulling him down on the floor and arresting him.

“The government is corrupted and is taking advantage of the pandemic to drown the voices of those resisting everything that this corrupted government is doing,” one of the organisers told the Cyprus Mail, saying the ban on the right of people to demonstrate was unconstitutional.

Six arrests occurred while the protestors were still at Kolokasi park, the starting point.

protesters and activists shout to stop the police from using a water cannon during a rally against corruption and covid 19 restriction measures, in nicosia
Protesters and activists shout to stop the police from using the water cannon during the rally (Reuters)

After the demonstration, police issued a statement defending their actions suggesting people threw rocks and other objects at them which is what led them to use force.

A demonstrator told the Cyprus Mail she saw one person throwing an orange. “I was there the whole time. I saw one guy throwing an orange at the officers. One. We never threw any rocks,” she said.

With the protestors exasperated and chanting slogans against fascism, the march finally started a few minutes before 5pm.

But a lot of people had left by 4.30pm, in fear of the incidents. A family said they needed to go their different ways as the husband sent his wife and kids home and started the march alone.

Around 300 demonstrators accompanied by drums walked to Makarios avenue accompanied by a heavy police presence, but they were cut off at a private parking place.

Forced to step back and surrounded by the police, some people ‘had enough’ of the force’s brutality and started yelling at them.

An additional five people were arrested before the demonstration ended with the injury of about eight people, including 25-year-old Anastasia Demetriadou.

Just 20 minutes after the protest started, police, who had meanwhile surrounded the protesters and closed Makarios avenue to traffic, announced they would use the water cannon.

Most people walked away, while some remained standing next to a shoe store where the cannon was aiming at.

Two people stood silently with their arms up on the air as the water fell on them, others were screaming.

The drumming stopped and the crowd dispersed when Demetriadou, a young musician fell on the ground from the pressure of the water. She hit the pavement and a small crowd gathered around her.

With ‘a woman down’ officers found the opportunity to attack the very few remaining protestors. About 20 armoured officers with shields run towards the crowd, pushed and hit people and made their final arrests.

“The protest could have been carried out in accordance with the social distancing measures. But police’s attempts to break it led demonstrators to gather closer together,” one of the participants said.

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