Strikers accuse police of heavy-handed tactics

By INÊS LOPES [email protected]

A general strike on Thursday last week was marked by riots and heavy police intervention in various areas of Lisbon.

Images of riot police charging protestors with batons, beating some and hauling away others have been published widely in the press and are causing widespread controversy in a country that is not used to this type of aggressive behaviour during public demonstrations.

Some people, including a police officer and two members of the press, had to receive hospital treatment for injuries following acts of violence and aggression.

Lusa news agency, on behalf of its journalist José Sena Goulão, has written formally to the head of the PSP police, Superintendent Paulo Valente Gomes, accusing PSP officers who beat the journalist on duty with batons of committing a crime and of “seriously violating the personality rights of the worker”.

According to the agency, the journalist, after being thrown to the floor by the authorities, repeatedly shouted that he was a journalist on duty, “however, officers continued to brutally beat him”.

“We will now take all the necessary measures to see the damages from these illegal acts repaired,” stated the letter.

A reporter from the France Press Agency, Patricia Melo Moreira, was also among those injured.

Responding to the accusations made against the police authorities, Home Affairs Minister Miguel Macedo said other footage of the riots has “conveniently” not been screened.

“It’s important to see all footage as I’m sure there will be better understanding of what actually happened on the day,” he said, referring to incidents involving protestors throwing stones and other objects at the authorities and vandalising establishments along the demonstration route from Avenida Almirante Reis to Rossio and then on to the Parliament.

“There was violence committed against police officers and there is footage of it. It is pointless to isolate an incident and interpret it subjectively.”

However, Miguel Macedo regrets what happened and recognises that the incidents have favoured against the “good image” of the police. “I do not wish to see the exercise of a fundamental right, such as the right to strike and demonstrate, affected by the confrontations,” he said.

An inquiry into the incidents has now been opened by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The General Strike of March 22 was organised by Portugal’s largest workers’ union CGTP to give the population an opportunity to protest against government austerity measures and the new labour law, less protective of workers.

Although a few public sector services were affected by the strike, it went virtually unnoticed in the Algarve, where no demonstrations were held.