Police on Monday rejected claims of “amateur handling” of anti-riot operations during violent incidents on Sunday during the memorial for Eoka leader Grivas Digenis in Limassol.
Five people were remanded for two days in connection with the clashes, as the police branch of Isotita union said some police officers avoided being killed simply through luck. One more person was arrested after he handed himself in.
President Nicos Anastasiades also chimed in, condemning the behaviour of “completely irresponsible hooligans…who tarnish sports, tarnish ceremonies and tarnish everything around them.”
Responding to a question from a journalist on accusations against police, Anastasiades said there was adequate police presence. He noted this was not the first time this kind of behaviour was seen, and the state should take even harsher measures.
“I will be briefed by the police chief and give instructions, at least until my last day in office, to create a climate which deters such behaviour.”
Anastasiades added such incidents are not limited to Cyprus and that there was no substance or cause behind the violence.
The violent clashes between rival football fans broke out shortly after 10am during a memorial service for the Eoka leader Grivas Digenis on Sunday, and resulted in the injury of six police officers plus two members of the public, in addition to causing damage to cars, police vehicles and shops.
Isotita police representative Nicos Loizides, speaking on CyBC radio, said it was high time leadership started listening to the concerns of those on the ground, and that members of the force would not accept being treated as incidental victims.
Loizides explained that although the number of police officers dealing with Sunday’s incidents was triple the norm, this was not a well-planned operation, claiming that traffic police and others were called to help at the scene from stations in the vicinity, and that large numbers of those on the ground were newly trained officers with barely three months’ experience.
Limassol police spokesman Lefteris Kyriacou said the police had acted pre-emptively with 80 officers on the scene. The efficiency of how they handled the situation was shown by the fact that in little over an hour order was restored, he said.
The clashes between Apoel and Apollonas football fans began over disputes on where they would be placed during the memorial, he added.
“These were differences they have over football and other differences that came to the fore and fans found a way to express them in this way, in a ceremony that had nothing to do with football.”
Loizides, however, warned in his statements that under current conditions, it is only a matter of time before a police officer meets a tragic end.
A further 11 are now being sought after their photos too have been released.
Loizides attributed the lack of on-the-spot arrests due to the anti-riot units not feeling secure in carrying out such duties. This, Loizides claimed, is in part due to the ill-designed nature of operating with inadequate staff, and, in part, due to the fact that every single person arrested in similar such incidents in the past has filed a court case against the arresting officer.
It is not the first time Loizides has called for proper strengthening of the front line police branch.
“The lives of our colleagues should not be in the hands of any amateur. It’s about time someone took responsibility. We expect our leadership to position itself with actions now,” he said.
“The state needs to show that it has officers’ backs,” if things are to be done properly, Loizides said. “We are at a serious junction where the state needs to choose between anarchy and lawlessness and proper policing.”