COVID19: Justice Minister chides anti-lockdown protest

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Cyprus Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis criticised protests against COVID-19 measures after a Limassol demonstration against the lockdown turned ugly.

Yiolitis told state broadcaster CyBC on Monday that demonstrations in Limassol are prohibited under decrees issued by the Health Ministry.

“This is not the time for us to be gathering on the streets. The streets carry the virus,” said Yiolitis.

“As all gatherings are prohibited in Limassol and Paphos, in public and private places, this means that demonstrations are also prohibited.

“For me personally, the discussion over whether a demonstration is a gathering, and whether an exemption should be made to protect our constitutional right is irrelevant”.

She said that common sense should prevail, and people should avoid any unnecessary movements in a bid to contain the virus.

“No gatherings should be taking place, in any district,” said Yiolitis.

The minister defended the actions of the police during Saturday’s violence.

“Once a large number of people had gathered, they had set up a microphone system, stealing power from municipal property. There is currently a court case regarding this theft along with all other charges.”

The Minister argued that the police “tolerated” the provocations and the illegality of the situation in an attempt to prevent further tensions.

“We must all take into account that there were families and small children in this demonstration,” argued Yiolitis.

On Sunday, nine people were remanded in custody for three days by a Limassol court, in connection to a demonstration against coronavirus restrictions on Friday which turned violent with four officers.

The nine, aged 16 to 27 were detained on suspicion of smashing storefronts and hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at police following a rally against a regional lockdown of Limassol and Paphos.

They face charges of rioting, vandalism, carrying explosive materials and conspiracy to commit a felony.

Three others were charged with attacking and obstructing police and were released. On the night of the incident, a total of 23 people were arrested.

Police said two more suspects were arrested on Monday.

The violence took place after around 1,000 people gathered late Saturday in Limassol to protest a strict, 19-day lockdown that bans all non-essential movement of people, shut bars and restaurants, and imposes an 8 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew.

Police have also said that they arrested the 31-year-old organiser of the rally on suspicion of inciting others to commit a criminal offence.

The man, arrested on Sunday after a court warrant was issued, had earlier told police that the demonstration had been cancelled.

Police said all identified demonstrators who violated mask-wearing and social distancing rules will be fined €300 for violating decrees.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in March until September, only 28% of the cases were from Limassol and Paphos, since October they account for 70%.