NICOSIA, Cyprus — Police in Cyprus say they have arrested 21 people and used tear gas and a water cannon after a group of Greek Cypriots wearing hoods and brandishing bats tried to attack protesting Syrians in a small village that has been a hotbed of tensions between locals and migrants.
Police said Tuesday parallel protests by some 250 Syrians and an equal number of Greek Cypriots in the village of Chloraka in the island’s southwest Monday evening degenerated into violence, as smaller numbers of protesters from both groups began setting fire to garbage bins and also torching a building’s fence.
Anti-riot squad officers managed to keep the two groups separated, while one officer suffered second degree burns to his hand from a Molotov cocktail hurled by rioters.
Police spokesman Christos Andreou told state broadcaster CyBC Tuesday that the clashes began when Greek Cypriots attempted to assault the migrants. He said nine Greek Cypriots and a dozen migrants were detained.
They face charges including weapons possession and causing violence.
Monday night’s clashes followed violence a day earlier when two migrants and a Greek Cypriot man were detained after hundreds of Chloraka residents marched in protest of what they said was the “ghettoization” of their village because of a large number of migrants settling there in recent years.
Andreou said that the protest turned violent when smaller groups of demonstrators rampaged through the village, allegedly attacking one migrant, damaging a migrant-owned restaurant and overturning a car.
What apparently triggered Sunday’s protest was a police sweep through an abandoned apartment complex in Chloraka to evict dozens of migrants who had been living illegally there. Police had carried out several such raids in the village in the last three years following a court order banning the settlement of additional asylum seekers and individuals who were granted international protection.
Migrants then staged their own protest the following day against what they said was unfair treatment by authorities and locals and for damage caused to their property. Justice Minister Anna Koukkides-Procopiou and Police Chief Stelios Papatheodorou were on hand to meet a delegation of migrants to hear their grievances in a bid to defuse tensions.
Andreou told private TV station Sigma that a Syrian man who was arrested was being investigated for allegedly trying to instigate others to violence through social media.
Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides strongly condemned the incidents, telling reporters that violence solves nothing and only gives rise to more violence.
Christodoulides said he has instructed both the police chief and the justice minister to hold talks with Chloraka municipal authorities and the Syrian migrants to “ensure public order” because “the people’s sense of security is non-negotiable.”
At the same time, he tried to assuage Chloraka residents’ concerns, saying that dealing with the large number of migrants reaching Cyprus remains a top priority for his government, pointing to measures already enacted that have resulted in both arrivals and asylum applications reduced by half.
“As a United Nations and European Union member, the Cyprus Republic is ready to abide by its international obligations but will show zero tolerance to whomever takes advantage of the situation and presents our country as an attractive destination” for illegal migration, said Christodoulides.