Protesters press Greece on refugees, troops

ATHENS, Greece – Over 10,000 protesters gathered Nov. 8 in Syntagma (Constitution) Square here in a rally against the attacks on Afghanistan.

Chanting, “We’re not with NATO or the Taliban, stop the war in Afghanistan” they marched to the U.S. Embassy, where speakers from the trade unions and the KKE (Communist Party of Greece), among others, condemned the terrorist attacks in the U.S., as well as the genocide being created by the U.S. bombings. Other rallies were held throughout the country, including in the northern port of Thessaloniki (Salonika) where women wearing Afghan burqas carried signs reading, “Why are you killing us?”

The rallies reflect the opinion of 80 percent of Greeks that terrorism cannot be defeated by war. The results of a nationwide opinion poll published in the Athens newspaper Eleftherotipia showed that only 15 percent consider the war in Afghanistan to be an effective means for combating terrorism and 60 percent disagree entirely with the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

As if to reinforce the distrust of U.S. agencies, former U.S. Ambassador to Greece Thomas Niles said in an interview Nov. 6 that he handed over to the Greek government lists of Greeks the U.S. suspected of terrorism. The Minister of Public Order was quick to reply that “the government has never received such a list, nor accepts such lists.”

Nevertheless, only a few weeks ago, despite strong public opposition and the votes of the KKE and other left parties, the PASOK-led parliament passed a new anti-terrorism bill sponsored by the opposition right-wing New Democracy Party with the guidance of U.S. agencies.

Further fueling the popular opposition to U.S. and NATO policies is the financial burden these policies have placed on the fragile Greek economy.

This week it was revealed that 100 NATO military officials who had stayed in Thessaloniki hotels in 1999 still owe their hotel bills. This comes on top of the huge security costs paid by the city during their stay.

Despite the deputy defense minister claiming that the PASOK (Socialist) government does not plan to provide troops for the attack on Afghanistan, the speakers at the rallies spoke of contrary U.S. claims. They said that the effects of the U.S. policies and bombardments can be seen in the waves of refugees coming into Greece.

The government wants funds from the European Union to help with the economic and political refugees entering Greece, often in transit to Western Europe but just as often unable to complete their travel plans.

When a government spokesman was asked about the fate of the refugees stranded on the Ionian Greek island of Zakynthos since last Nov. 5, he said that no political refugees would be deported from Greece to their country of origin. However, he was quick to add that each would be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

His statement brought a protest from Amnesty International, which is mobilizing against the repatriation of the Zakynthos refugees.