The Cyprus government has condemned protesters opposed to its coronavirus curbs and vaccination campaign who attacked a television station and clashed with police.
A protest against measures to contain the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccinations escalated on Sunday after an angry mob attacked the premises of the Cypriot television station Sigma.
The state will not be threatened by people who, “citing irrational conspiracy theories, try to lead the country back into the Middle Ages”, President Nicos Anastasiades said yesterday.
“The health, safety of our citizens and our democracy will not be left in the hands of irresponsible citizens,” Anastasiades said in a tweet.
Cars belonging to the station’s staff were set on fire outside the
media building and demonstrators threw stones and incendiary devices, Cypriot media reported.
Parliament speaker Annita Demetriou also condemned the attack in the capital Nicosia and stressed the need “to protect democracy and freedom of speech at any cost”, the Cyprus News Agency reported.
Five people were arrested and police were looking for another 10 suspects filmed by CCTV cameras after the violence which followed a rally by some 5,000 protesters outside the presidential palace.
Some demonstrators had carried signs that lashed out at public health measures and labelled the government’s COVID SafePass a “Slave Pass”.
Cyprus introduced the pass last week. It allows only those who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID to enter supermarkets, malls, restaurants and other businesses.
Another protest banner read: “My body, my choice – This is about Tyranny vs Freedom”.
Hours later, television viewers on the Mediterranean island were shocked when a broadcast by Sigma TV was interrupted by protesters who stormed the building.
The anchor, Nestoras Vassiliou, announced live on air that the building was under attack while screams could be heard.
The protesters, many of them hooded, hurled bricks, flares and home-made petrol bombs, torched several cars outside and ransacked the lobby.
When police confronted the protesters, 12 officers were wounded, including seven who were treated in hospital, the Cyprus Mail reported.
Later in the night, police clashed with protesters outside the presidential palace and used tear gas against them, said the newspaper.
Cyprus is experiencing a fourth wave of coronavirus infections driven by the transmissible Delta variant. It has so far recorded more than 90,000 cases of coronavirus and 384 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
The government last week expanded its COVID-19 vaccination rollout to include teenagers aged 16 and 17, following the new surge, and it has stepped up efforts to persuade young people to take the jabs.
Sigma TV has been outspoken against anti-vaccination campaigners, and the station has been targeted in previous protests against anti-coronavirus measures.
Anastasiades said, during a visit to the station Monday, that the government stands “by the side of all mass media to be able to freely express opinions”.