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Festival turns into war zone as migrants and nationalists clash
ONE MAN was stabbed and several police and members of the public were injured last night at the annual migrants’ Rainbow Festival in Larnaca when violent clashes broke out between nationalist protestors and festival-goers.
Phinikoudes Beach was turned into a warzone, when marching members of three nationalist movements came into conflict with participants at the antiracism festival, and with members of migrant support group KISA, the organisers of the event.
Even in their riot gear, a number of policemen sustained injuries, as did several members of the public. In the aftermath, the beach was covered with broken chairs and other debris.
Eyewitness Beran Djemal told the Cyprus Mail last night that one Turkish Cypriot man – 30-year-old singer Sertunc Akdogdu who was performing at the festival - was rushed to hospital after being stabbed in the stomach, while another man had his arm broken. Djemal said after the fracas a number of Turkish Cypriots took refuge at Larnaca Police Station waiting for the violence to be over. As the newspaper went to press, incidents were ongoing.
“A music group of Turkish Cypriots who tried to go home were warned not to leave as it would be dangerous,” said Djemal. She said the injured Turkish Cypriots - and other festival-goers - asked for a police escort to the hospital because they were scared. “But the police refused to help and arrested four of the festival-goers. They did nothing to the fascists and told us not to take photographs because they said it was provocative.”
Headed by the Greek Resistance Movement, a group of protestors had been on their way to the town’s Ayios Lazaros area in a march they had arranged over a month ago to protest the government’s migrant policies.
Accompanied by a strong police presence, the protestors were on their way through Phinikoudes Beach – where the Rainbow Festival was being held – and according to eye witnesses, all hell broke loose.
The protestors came into conflict with members of KISA, which had decided to hold the Festival in Larnaca – instead of Limassol, as was initially planned – in a bid to hold an “anti-demonstration” to counterbalance the nationalists’ march.
According to Djemal, it all started during a speech by the head of the European Commission’s Representation in Cyprus – Androulla Kaminara.
“During the speech, around 80 fascist protestors carrying Greek flags started shouting slogans against migrants,” said Djemal. “The festival-goers returned the slogans, shouting: ‘Nazis out of Cyprus’”. It was then that the scuffles broke out.
“Some of the nationalists had their faces covered, one lifted up his shirt and showed a swastika tattooed on his stomach,” Djemal said. “They threw bottles at festival-goers and cut the electricity cables when a band was playing. Over the next two hours, clashes continued and the group of nationalists grew to around 150.”
Even though both sides offer contradicting accounts of how the events unfolded, the general view was that police and Larnaca Municipality had done little to avert the troubles.
KISA head Doros Polycarpou said his NGO had asked the police to divert the protestors’ march so that it didn’t pass by the Rainbow Festival.
“On the contrary, the police seem to have allowed them to move forward and once they reached the event, to protect ourselves, we sat in the road to block it in a peaceful way to convince the police to veer them away,” said Polycarpou. “They allowed the neo-Nazis to head into the event and start hitting people, in full view of the police. You can imagine what happened after that.”
Another eye witness who wished to remain anonymous told the Cyprus Mail: “The protestors entered the area where the festival was about to start and started throwing chairs all over the place, breaking every single one. There were children waiting in a caravan and they became very scared.”
On the opposite side of the fence, the nationalist protestors claim it was they who were attacked. However, they too agree that it all could have been avoided if the correct actions were taken by the police and Larnaca mayor.
“I am a member of the public who decided to march against illegal immmigrants - not against the migrants themselves, but the policies promoted in their favour by the government,” Dr Andreas Paraxenopoulos, a member of Greek Resistance, told the Cyprus Mail last night. “We announced our march a month and a half ago to the police, and the police – along with the Larnaca mayor – oddly allowed KISA to do another anti-demonstration. It is like they wanted to make us fight.”
Paraxenopoulos said the troubles started when members of KISA attempted to prevent the protestors from moving ahead with their march.
“We were calm. We are just trying to exercise our right as Cypriot citizens to do a demonstration to protest something that is of concern to us.”
He went on to accuse KISA members of throwing chairs at the protestors, as well as paint – something he said the public would become witness to when watching the news today.
“They started approaching us, breaking chairs and throwing them at us, calling us neo-Nazis – we just want our country to remain Greek. I was personally drenched in paint. They were savage with bad intentions and if the police weren’t there, they would have slaughtered us,” Paraxenopoulos claimed. “The police and municipality are to blame; they really seem to have wanted us to fight among ourselves.”
A Larnaca police spokesman said there had been a number of injuries, though the full extent of the damage will be assessed today.
Trouble started brewing last week, when KISA announced it would be cancelling the Rainbow festival in Limassol and bringing it to Larnaca last night, as an “anti-demonstration” to the planned march against migrants by the three nationalist groups.
KISA called on all members of the public to join its anti-demo against the “racist and radical right-wing elements in Larnaca”. It added that the Rainbow Festival would from now on be held in Larnaca instead of Limassol – as well as Nicosia – as an antiracism message to the town.
“In view of this new provocative demonstration, KISA decided to organise this year’s Rainbow Festival – apart from Nicosia – in Larnaca instead of Limassol, as was the case for the past two years,” KISA announced. “On the same day of the aforementioned event, the Rainbow organisation will send our antiracist messages against the presence and actions of the radical right-wing and racist elements in Larnaca.”
Referring to KISA as a “social abscess” and “the fifth column” – defined as a group of people who clandestinely undermine a larger group, such as a nation, from within to help an external enemy – the Greek Resistance used its website to blast KISA for organising the Rainbow Festival on the same day.