ATHENS: Riot police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Muslims who pelted them with sticks and stones outside parliament during protests over what they said was the destruction of a Quran by a Greek policeman.
DAWNThe Muslim Union of Greece says that during police checks at a Syrian-owned coffee shop, an officer took a customer’s Quran, tore it up, threw it on the floor and stomped on it. Police have launched an investigation.
About 1,500 Muslims marched through Athens to protest against the incident, chanting ‘Allah is great’, carrying banners reading ‘Hands off immigrants’ and holding up copies of Islam’s holy book.
‘They started throwing rocks and sticks at police guarding parliament and the officers responded with tear gas and percussion bombs,’ a police official said.
The protesters pulled up pavements, smashed about a dozen shop windows and damaged cars, leaving some overturned in the middle of streets. Bus stops and traffic lights were destroyed and shocked tourists ran into hotels on the central Syndagma Square for cover.
Police said 46 protesters were arrested. Seven Muslims and another seven policemen were injured and brought to hospital for treatment. About 75 cars, five stores and one bank were damaged, according to a police statement.
‘We want to live here in peace, we don’t want trouble but we want the policeman to be punished,’ said a 30-year-old illegal Egyptian immigrant who identified himself as Said. (In Islam, that punishment is the death penalty)
It was the second protest since the reported incident. On Thursday, about 1,000 immigrants, many from Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, marched to centrally located Omonia Square, smashing several shop windows and five cars.
The Muslim Union, representing thousands of immigrants in Athens, said it had filed a lawsuit against the unidentified policeman.
Thousands of immigrants, many from Muslim countries, cross into Greece illegally every year seeking a better life in the West. Trapped in legal limbo, most have no jobs, live in squalid conditions and are often arrested for minor crimes.