GREECE: No campus conflict despite warning

The senate of the Technical University of Athens warned ahead of the 17 November anniversary of the 1973 uprising against the junta that it was not in a position to avert serious incidents. But while protests erupted in the capital, with 7,000 police deployed in the area the university appears to have escaped conflict.

Its warning followed widespread incidents during the 28 October national holiday, when students and ordinary people expressed strong disapproval not only of government officials but also of the president of the republic.

The senate informed the government that it would not be held responsible for the safety of the institution, which was a focal point of the commemoration, particularly since the academic sanctuary is now defunct.

Concern was also expressed over possible incidents on 6 December, the third anniversary of the 2008 killing of Alexis Grigoropoulos, a young student, by a police special guard in the centre of Athens.

In 1973 the military junta sent a tank to suppress demonstrations by students at the Technical University (then Athens Polytechnic), causing bloodshed which became the fuse for a more general uprising in the cause of freedom and the eventual demise of the junta.

On the anniversary, celebrations usually start with the placement of wreaths and flowers by officials and ordinary people, some of them survivors of the uprising, at the monument of those students who lost their lives. This is followed by a march to the American Embassy in Athens, thought to have been patrons and supporters of the colonels' junta.

Recent educational reforms, promoted by education secretary Anna Diamandopoulou, who may be replaced if the talks for a coalition government after prime minister George Papandreou's resignation succeed, abolished the university sanctuary.

The senate committee expressed strong fears that the institution could become the target of both "unknown anarchist elements" and of the police who now no longer need the permission of the rector to enter the premises during incidents.

The senate committee indicated that it would refuse to take responsibility for the safety of the building and the property of the university, and called on the government to assume responsibility for the safety of the institution; which, incidentally, suffered a great deal of damage more than 15 years ago in similar circumstances but is now fully restored.

A meeting between the university rectors and the head of the citizen protection ministry, Christos Papoutsis, was hastily convened in order to discuss the situation and agree on the measures and responsibilities of all parties involved.

"All those who organise student and public events and mobilisations should assume clear, distinct and decisive initiatives to make them safe and secure," Papoutsis said after the meeting.

The senate placed teaching and administrative staff, students and volunteers on red alert in order to defend the institution. Only a very small area was deemed accessible to the general public during the three-day celebrations. All other parts of the university were secured and guarded round the clock.

Students and lecturers were placed on duty in small groups to prevent trespassers entering the university as well as denying the police the opportunity to invade the premises claiming provocation. This has worked in recent years but circumstances are very different this year.