August 8, 2019 / 4:55 PM / 11 days ago

Greece scraps no-go areas at universities; opposition fumes

Students shout slogans as they take part in a rally against the abolishment of academic asylum in Athens, Greece August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek lawmakers on Thursday scrapped regulations making universities a no-go zone for police, a move authorities say will tackle lawlessness but which critics have decried as a clampdown on democracy.

The move is one of the first taken by the country’s conservative New Democracy government, which swept to power last month, unseating left-wing Syriza. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis campaigned hard on the issue of public safety.

“We don’t want police in university. We do want though to get rid of the hoodies who police the lives of students,” Mitsotakis told parliament, referring to self-styled anarchists.

The conservatives have long argued that university sanctuary has outlived its purpose and has been hijacked by criminal elements. Many academics complain of violence and drug dealing in plain view.

“During a typical student’s life, he will see faculties controlled by a manner of different groups, drugs, and basements full of petrol bombs and hoods,” Mitsotakis said.

University asylum was a legacy of the crackdown by the then military junta on students in 1973, when a tank burst through the gates of the Athens Polytechnic, killing dozens of people.

Alexis Tsipras, the former prime minister and now main opposition leader, said the move was an attempt to undermine Greece’s public universities. “You are obsessed with it,” Tsipras told Mitsotakis.

“New Democracy has always followed that line; to gradually privatise universities, undermine welfare and research,” he said.

Under the 1982 law, which has been repealed and reinstated by different governments in recent years, Greek universities have been largely out of bounds to police.

Reporting by Michele Kambas, George Georgiopoulos and Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Stephen Powell

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