Greek police clash with protesters as lawmakers debate education reforms

·2-min read

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police clashed with students protesting against education reforms expected to be approved by parliament on Wednesday which opponents say threaten guarantees to academic freedom built up in the years following the end of military rule in the 1970s.

The government says the reforms, including the formation of special police units for university campuses, are designed to upgrade the system, overhaul admissions to state universities and improve security.

Thousands of people rallied in central Athens, Thessaloniki and other big cities as legislators debated the bill.

Outside parliament, police fired tear gas briefly to disperse the protesters, who were defying restrictions on gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Take the bill back!" and "No to university police!" some of the banners held by demonstrators in Athens read.

The issue of police on campus has been especially sensitive in Greece since the era of the 1967-1974 military regime. During a 1973 student revolt that helped topple the junta, a tank crashed through the gates of the Polytechnic university, killing students.

Mistrust between students and police has been further fuelled by regular clashes during the decade-long financial crisis.

Shortly after it came to power in 2019, the conservative government overturned a decades-old ban on police entering universities, saying it had outlived its purpose and was used as a cover for lawlessness.

Opponents of the law say state universities could hire more security staff and upgrade other security measures instead of bringing police in.

The draft legislation also allows the installation of electronic security systems at university areas and entrances and sets up a minimum grade threshold to enter university.

The leftist opposition demanded the debate and vote be postponed, accusing the government of taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to get unpopular bills through parliament.

(Writing by Renee Maltezou and James Mackenzie; editing by Philippa Fletcher)