Nicosia’s old town was quiet on Wednesday night, as police maintained a strong presence in the area to prevent potential anti-migrant protests turning violent.
Police and police vans also gathered in force outside the presidential palace, where originally a protest by Facebook account “Mass deportations now” was meant to take place, but was later cancelled for fear of it descending into chaotic and violent scenes reminiscent of those in Limassol on Friday night.
Police were out in droves after the police chief said that, despite the group having cancelled the protest, rioting could still occur.
Speaking during the House legal affairs committee, police chief Stelios Papatheodorou was pressed by deputies to answer whether the protest would in fact take place.
Giving a half-shrug, he said he believed it would. “We are operating on the basis that it will.”
Asked after the committee session, Papatheodorou confirmed the police were preparing for the protest to take place as planned outside the presidential palace on Wednesday night at 7:30pm.
At the presidential palace, a Cyprus Mail correspondent at the scene reported a heavy police presence, with many officers wearing full anti-riot gear. The Aiantas water cannon was also present.
While the protest was due to be held outside the presidential palace, concerns were raised that small groups could splinter off and seek out migrant communities in the centre of old Nicosia.
Many migrants live and work there and fears were that mob scenes echoing those in Limassol and Cholarakas last week, when police were strongly criticised for their ineffective response, could erupt.
But unlike in those places, a large number of police officers were spotted sitting in uniform and unmarked cars in the old town, especially near ‘Oxi’ roundabout, where there are many migrant-run businesses.
Meanwhile migrant-run shops in the area began closing their doors early. Virtually all the shops were shut by around 7:30pm, when they are generally open until 9-9:30pm.
However, the owner of one kiosk said she was not planning to close.
“Police are everywhere,” the owner said.
Meanwhile, the Cyprus Mail said that Ledra street was quieter than normal, but not empty. Later images showed that people were gathered at some restaurants at Ledra street and enjoying their meal.
Police were spotted circling the old town and other areas of Nicosia.
The protest had officially been cancelled a day before as the group that organised it had feared it could get “out of control”.
“We believe that an out-of-control situation on Wednesday would turn us into scapegoats of the failed and incompetent policies of governments over the years, including the current one. We understand that they want to burden us with responsibilities that belong to them,” the group called Mass Deportations Now said.
It said the cancellation of the protest is not weakness, just real, responsible “patriotism”.
Despite the cancellation, some migrant and refugee support NGOs repeated a call for people to vigilant on Wednesday night as there could be “spontaneous attacks”.
The Cyprus Refugee Council said that if anyone is in trouble to call the police helpline at 112 and give their exact location for help.
The demonstration had been the main subject of conversation on Tuesday near Oxi roundabout in Nicosia’s old city.
“We’re going to watch the situation and prepare to close, maybe in the afternoon,” said the owner of an Asian supermarket. “We’re going to stay alert.”
The Arab owner of a barber shop said he too would be on alert.