Second anti-corruption rally planned, police fear violence

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Organisers of a protest against corruption in which police were accused of using excessive force in handling it have called for a repeat demonstration on Saturday despite warnings.

Last Saturday, several hundred people took to the streets of central Nicosia, against corruption and coronavirus lockdown, where they were met by riot police.

After police used a water cannon and pepper spray in clashes with anti-corruption protestors, a probe has been launched into possible ‘police brutality’.

Attorney-General George Savvides gave the green light Monday for an independent watchdog to appoint criminal investigators to conduct an inquiry into possible ‘excessive force’ used.

The independent police complaints authority probe comes after clashes occurred when police moved in to disperse the crowd, making 10 arrests while one demonstrator suffered an eye injury from a water cannon.

During the demonstration, several people were injured, including a 25-year-old woman who was hit by a volley of water as she held her arms up and danced in the street.

She underwent emergency surgery to save her eyesight.

The violence triggered outrage across the political spectrum and calls for Justice Minister Emily Yiolitis to resign.

She also agreed police used disproportionate force to control a crowd that included families with children.

“The violent repression and police brutality we faced at the demo on 13 February totally vindicates us for taking to the streets.

“The government has proved yet again that it prefers to handle the pandemic with authoritarianism, with little regard for the rights of the financially weaker classes,” said a statement by organisers.

The mainly left-wing and anti-fascist organisers said, through social media posts, Saturday’s rally will be peaceful.

Cyprus police have expressed fears that demonstrators may get violent, as they received intelligence that troublemakers not related to the organisers will try and infiltrate the demonstration to cause violence.

In comments to the Cyprus News Agency, police spokesperson Christos Andreou on Thursday defended the force, arguing that officers “had only intervened when the demonstration turned into a riot”.

He argued that police only intervene when lives or property are at risk.

Later Thursday, Andreou said the police leadership had convened to draw up a plan to handle Saturday’s demonstration which is illegal under COVID-19 decrees.

“All available information so far has been presented in order to prepare the operational action plan. The police force is ready and will be on duty to police the event.”

Last week’s events sparked criticism against the government with the main opposition party AKEL calling on Yiolitis to resign.

Images of the violence made international news with human rights organisations demanding a thorough investigation into possible police brutality.

Amnesty International Tweeted: “We are very concerned over reports (including testimonies and videos) of excessive use of force by Cyprus police against peaceful protests against corruption. We call for an impartial, thorough & prompt investigation”.