An emergency meeting convened by President Nikos Christodoulides on Saturday acknowledged the police’s failure to contain the far-right racist attacks that erupted in Limassol the previous night.

In hours of violence on Friday night mobs hurled Molotov cocktails, beat up people of colour, smashed foreign-owned shops and set cars and motorbikes on fire as the police failed to contain the rampage. There was widespread criticism of the tardy and ineffective police response as thugs ran riot in the city especially as the police had known about the protest days in advance.

By Saturday afternoon 13 arrests had been made, one of them of the individual believed to be behind the protest.

The Cyprus News Agency, citing government sources, said that during the nearly two-hour meeting, it was decided to quickly review and establish new operational police procedures. It was widely accepted at the meeting that Friday’s operational plan by police had been a failure.

No official statements were made afterwards, but sources said it was stressed that there is a need to de-escalate the situation, especially given the anti-fascist protests scheduled for Saturday evening, with a focus on preventing any risks to public safety and the safety of citizens.

Furthermore, it was noted that the infiltration of extremist elements into protests is now a serious phenomenon, which deliberately incites violence.

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One of the shops damaged in the attacks

Earlier in the day, Christodoulides said he felt shame over the attacks and indicated that those responsible should feel shame as well.

“There is not much that can be said, apart from the disgraceful scenes we witnessed,” the president said in statements following a memorial service in Vavla.

“If all those involved loved or cared about our homeland, they would not engage in such actions that, first and foremost, offend our country,” he stated.

The sharpest criticism of the police response came from the Limassol mayor Nicos Nicolaides and Akel.

“The competent agencies of the state must protect public safety and order, human lives and property in an active and effective manner, both on a preventive and active level,” said Nicolaides, during a visit to some of the damaged properties.

“If effective measures are not taken, the situation will become uncontrollable with dangerous and incalculable effects on social stability. This, as a society, we must never allow.”

Akel, meanwhile, pulled no punches, saying the president and government were responsible for the scale of the violence.

“The government and the police bear inexcusable responsibilities and must be held accountable. Why did they allow these hooded groups to attack Cypriots and foreigners, to destroy and loot in the centre of Limassol? Why do they refuse to enforce laws against organised hate speech and incitement to violence that have poisoned society to explosive levels for days,” Akel said.

“The president and the government owe an answer to the public: will they continue to tolerate far-right violence, even for one more day? Mr President, it is you and your government’s responsibility to protect the lives and property of all citizens.”

Regarding the damaged properties during Friday night’s incidents, government sources said that this issue would be examined at a later stage.

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The emergency meeting

But speaking earlier, and when asked if the government will support individuals whose property was damaged, the president stated that the government will stand by them, but at the same time, he noted that there is a relevant provision in the law for those who are convicted.

“Those who are responsible and have been arrested, if and when it is proven that they are responsible, should bear the financial cost of their actions,” he said.

Christodoulides also defended the government’s migration policy.

He reiterated that there were results in the last six months regarding the numbers of migrants entering Cyprus, with a reduction in arrivals, more returns than arrivals in the country, and an examination of 80 per cent more applications.

“We have a specific plan and strategy,” he said. “I can say today, knowing the importance of every word I utter, that we will address the immigration issue.

“What we saw last night has nothing to do with immigration, and we should not confuse the two issues – it is a matter of public order,” he stressed.

Present at the meeting were various officials, including the Justice Minister Anna Koukkidou Procopiou, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou, government spokesman, Konstantinos Letymbiotis, the deputy attorney general, Savvas Angelides, and the leadership of the police.

Political parties all condemned the violence. Far-right Elam, whose supporters are believed to be behind the attacks, said: we condemn all forms of violence wherever they come from, reiterating our firm position that the problem of illegal immigration can only be solved through proper political management and implementation of a strict immigration policy.”

House president and Disy leader Annita Demetriou also deplored the violence and the police response.

“The disgraceful incidents that occurred last night in Limassol represent a blatant failure of legality against lawlessness,” she said.

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Fires on Anexartisias street

Disy stated that serious responsibilities lie with all those who, through public statements and actions, “nurture xenophobia, racism, and the use of violence against innocent citizens, leading to property destruction”.

In their statement, Edek blamed the politicised organised football supporter clubs.

“These groups have become hubs for illegal activities, cultivating racist and fascist ideologies, promoting drug trafficking and usage, and resorting to violence as their primary mode of operation,” the party said.

Diko said that that a “clear message must be sent to those promoting fascism and hatred”, saying that “their criminal behaviour hurts our nation, and there will be no tolerance from the state”.

Akel stressed that political forces promoting xenophobia and hatred shared a responsibility for Friday’s events.

“Equally culpable are the political forces that, for years now, but especially in recent days, engage in xenophobic rhetoric or hatred, providing excuses and encouraging and normalising the far-right,” the party said.

“Cyprus is at a critical juncture, and all must defend democratic principles and unity against fascism and uphold values of solidarity and humanity.”

Municipal crews were working to clear up the destruction left by the violent mobs, and Nicolaides spoke with residents and business owners whose properties suffered damage.

He called the situation completely unacceptable for a modern city and highlighted that the damages caused by extremist criminal elements amounted to thousands of euros.

“It is not acceptable for the public, whether Cypriots or foreigners, to feel exposed to any extremist criminal elements at any time,” he said, highlighting that Limassol is a multicultural city with many foreign residents.