Greece protests over FYROM police's 'excessive violence'

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By Alasdair Sandford
Greece protests over FYROM police's 'excessive violence'

Greece has accused its northern neighbour the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) of excessive use of violence after Sunday’s border scenes during which hundreds of migrants and refugees were injured.

I've had three children under the age of ten who've had plastic bullets to the head

The Greek foreign minister has said Athens is making formal protests to Macedonia. The official in charge of dealing with the migration crisis, Giorgos Kyritsis, said it would also take action regarding European countries who had sent police observers to the Macedonian side, including Slovakia and Hungary.

Calm has since returned to Idomeni and most of the injured have reportedly been released from hospital.

But on Sunday eyewitnesses said FYROM police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds on the Greek side of the fence separating the two countries.

Macedonian police say they were provoked and have denied using plastic bullets – a claim that has been challenged by doctors treating people’s injuries.

“(We have) serious concerns: There have been fractures and plastic bullet wounds to the head – so I’ve had three children under the age of 10 who’ve had plastic bullets to the head,” said Connor Kenny, a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Sunday’s tension, following the border’s total closure in February, came after a leaflet in Arabic was distributed on Saturday suggesting the frontier would open.

A delegation of five Syrian refugees tried to mediate between police and protesters – to no avail.

After FYROM police denied the border was about to open, over 100 refugees tried to scale the fence and clashes began.

“We have here 10,000 people. We are the five, we came here and we try to discuss with you with a nice way, with a peace way, and that’s what we are looking for. But the problem is that we have 10,000 people behind and we will try to ask them to just calm and keep down. But the problem is that we cannot control 10,000 people,” said one young man who was part of the impromptu Syrian delegation.

Greece says it has doubled the police presence at Idomeni.

It has been trying to persuade refugees and migrants that they should go to reception centres elsewhere in the country to ask for asylum – a message that has failed to get through, with thousands still bent on trying to head north towards other European destinations.