World News

Tense stand-off as anti-fascists face ELAM

Source: | Wednesday, 16 January 2013

THOSE AMBLING through the streets of old Nicosia last night might have mistaken their location for a battle zone as nationalist party ELAM and anti-fascists squared up outside the old Phaneromeni Church, armed with helmets, clubs and shields.

On one side, in front of the Phaneromeni school and in the churchyard, around one to two hundred ELAM (National Popular Front) supporters gathered to mark the 63rd anniversary of a referendum held in Cyprus in 1950, where 95.7 per cent of those who took part, voted in favour of union (Enosis) with Greece.

The vast majority of supporters of the far-right group who gathered last night wore motorcycle helmets and carried thick sticks that doubled up as flag holders. Some also carried homemade-looking shields. Others covered their faces with hoods or balaclavas.

From those whose faces were not hidden, there was a mix of young and old, men, women and teenagers. Former EOKA fighters were also present.

While the ceremony took place, helmet-wearing ELAM members took control of security, closing off access to the site around the school while a small group of police stood in and around the gathering.

However, just a few metres away, a heavily-equipped police anti-riot unit stood firm west of the church, blocking access to the ELAM event to an equally-sized crowd of people who had gathered as a counter-protest to the ELAM march. They shouted anti-fascist slogans and sang “Happy New Year” to the more organised gathering opposite.

On the frontline facing the police, their members also wore helmets and carried sticks, though the number of ‘battle-ready’ counter-demonstrators was less than the helmet and stick ELAM supporters, who appeared to have clear chains of command.

The two crowds chanted slogans at each other while the police stood firm in the middle to ensure there was no repeat of the violence that marred the Rainbow Festival in Larnaca when an anti-migrant protest was allowed to mix with a counter-demonstration.

This was the sixth year ELAM organised an event to mark the enosis referendum of 1950.

On their website, they called on the state and authorities to protect the historic Phaneromeni church, claiming it has been left at the mercy of “foreigners and anarchists”.

ELAM head Christos Christou told the Cyprus Mail last night that “certain punks” tried to obstruct an event organised at a place “very holy to the Greeks of Cyprus”.

“Fortunately, thanks to the cool heads and resolve of ELAM, the event took place and no incidents occurred,” he said.

Asked to comment on the large number of helmet-clad participants, he said: “They are part of our security which we were forced to organise to protect the people taking part in the event.”

While tensions were high throughout the event, police appeared to have a clear game plan, keeping both sides well apart until the ELAM supporters marched away.

Some within the anti-fascist crowd left behind shouted out warnings to others not to leave the site alone, fearful of reprisals from their opposite numbers.

ELAM announced this month it would be fielding its own candidate in next month’s presidential elections, for which it has received the support of Greek far-right party ‘Chrysi Avgi’ (Golden Dawn).

On December 28, 2010, the group organised a march against Turkish Cypriots and migrants.

Its manifesto proclaims a zero-tolerance, anti-immigration policy against illegal immigration.

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