Deputies on Wednesday grilled Cyprus’ police chief on institutionalised racism within the force and whether this was a factor in the observer status police took, as mobs attacked migrants in a week of violence in Chlorakas and Limassol.
MPs also slammed Justice Minister Anna Procopiou for failing to turn up to the House legal affairs committee, which was discussing the recent violent events and the issue of public safety.
Procopiou did not attend, citing her required attendance at a cabinet meeting. The justification however was harshly criticised by MPs who said previous ministers in her role had chosen to the skip the cabinet session and attend a parliamentary committee if the matter at hand was serious.
“Is the cabinet meeting more important than public safety? The public interest means she should be here today. There is no excuse,” Disy chairman Nikos Tornaritis said.
Police chief Stelios Papatheodorou admitted the force “could have intervened earlier” and put a stop to the violence in Limassol.
“Our failure had to do with a matter of seconds, when they managed to run away. We should have been faster.”
His statements did not sit well with deputies, particularly from Akel and the Greens, as the session erupted into shouting matches multiple times.
Akel’s Yiorgos Loukaides charged videos have circulated of police officers being chummy with Chlorakas protestors who were marching in the streets calling for immigrants to get kicked out of the country.
“Is there an issue of institutionalised racism in the force? Should it be concerning?”
Papatheodorou heard all the MPs’ questions before answering but did not offer a direct response to Loukaides’ question.
Greens MP Alexandra Attalides slammed police for not setting the record straight on a slew of misinformation that emerged in the past few weeks.
She charged certain forces had instrumentalised the migration crisis in an attempt to spur racism.
One example was fake news that Chlorakas holds 151 jihadists, which Attalidou accused the police of not clarifying sooner to the public that this information was simply not true.
Pressed by MPs, Papatheodorou confirmed in fact that there were no jihadis in Chlorakas. He also confirmed that the story of 10 Syrian nationals allegedly attacking a Cypriot police officer was fake news, but the officer in question could not face any proceedings at the moment due to health conditions.
The Cyprus Mail has learned the specific officer has mental health issues, however police could not specify whether this was known before the incident.
Loukaides described the violence which unfolded “as an organised pogrom against people who have been in the community for decades.”
In an attempt to defend the force, Papatheodorou said there was a lot happening that week, including the Israeli prime minister’s visit.
The community leader in Chlorakas, Nicolas Liasides told deputies that the violence was condemned. “The Syrians that have been living here since the 90s have been quiet and peaceful. We have good relations.”
The contentious incident with a Syrian migrant saying Paphos would be flipped upside down if police did not get a handle on the situation “does not reflect the Syrian community”, Liasides said.