Greek police under scrutiny after photographer hospitalized

Greek photojournalist Marios Lolos, 46, chair of the Greek Photojournalists' Association working for the Chinese news agency Xinhua, is moved for his surgery in a Athens hospital on April 6, 2012. (AFP PHOTO/ CHRISTOS ZOULIATIS)

ATHENS: A Greek photographer working for Chinese state news agency Xinhua underwent surgery Friday after suffering a serious head injury when hit by riot police while covering an anti-austerity protest, a police source said.

Marios Lolos, 46, who chairs the Greek photojournalists' union, "sustained a cranial injury from a truncheon blow" to the back of the head, in what is being seen as the latest incident of police brutality against the media, the association of Greek journalist unions Poesy said.

Other journalists present said police had cornered members of the media covering the protest on Thursday night and a riot policeman had struck Lolos with the steel handle of his truncheon.

Citizen's Protection Minister Michalis Chryssohoidis condemned the incident and said a judicial and internal police investigation had been launched.

Spokesman Pantelis Kapsis expressed the government's "sadness" over the incident and promised to "shed light" on it.

The incident occurred as several hundred people gathered in Athens to protest against government austerity measures in the name of a 77-year-old pensioner who committed suicide on Wednesday, apparently over debt despair.

Another two journalists were shoved to the ground by police on Wednesday at another demonstration held a few hours after the pensioner shot himself.

The retired pharmacist killed himself under a cypress tree in Syntagma Square on Wednesday, about hundred meters (yards) from parliament, saying government austerity cuts had "wiped out" his pension and left him in penury.

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs in the last year, and unemployment currently tops one million, a quarter of the workforce.

Debt-wracked Greece has been forced to drastically cut state spending, and has slashed civil servant salaries and pensions by up to 40 percent to secure bailout loan payments from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The NGO Reporters Without Borders said it "roundly condemns a new wave of deliberate attacks on reporters and photographers in Athens and calls on the security forces to immediately identify those persons within their ranks who were responsible."

It said in a statement: "The riot police, who were criticized after the abuses of last summer and autumn, seem to have recovered their repressive instincts. The deliberate nature of the latest attacks leaves no doubt about this.

"In particular, Marios Lolos, a very well-known media figure, was clearly targeted during a peaceful demonstration while in a group of clearly identified journalists. (...) This unacceptable behavior must be fully investigated and the police officers responsible for assaulting journalists must be severely punished."

Police in Greece are regularly accused of rough-handed tactics, particularly against immigrants but also demonstrators and journalists during protests.

Few however are punished for such behavior.

Tatiana Bolari, a photojournalist struck in the face by a riot policeman during an October protest, said no trial date for her complaint had yet been set.

"He hit me with the palm of his hand. Later I was told this is a blow designed to leave no marks on the knuckles. My head snapped back and I was forced to wear a neck brace for eight days," she said.





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