ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek police fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon to disperse dozens of protesters who rallied in central Athens on Wednesday in solidarity with a hunger striking convicted assassin from the disbanded leftist November 17 militant group.
Dimitris Koufodinas is serving multiple life terms for several crimes, including 13 murders, out of 23 killings claimed by the Marxist group which operated for almost three decades until authorities arrested its leaders in 2002.
He was known as the “poison hand” for his deadly aim as the triggerman in assassinations, including the shootings of a Turkish diplomat and a British military attache.
He has been in critical condition at a hospital in central Greece after starting a hunger strike last month, demanding to be moved from a prison in central Greece back to a high-security facility in Athens where he was previously serving his sentence. The facility has an isolation area for November 17 convicts.
Wednesday’s protests follow a number of other demonstrations in support of Koufodinas in Athens and other big cities in recent weeks as well as a separate series of student protests over new security measures on university campuses.
On Athens’ main Syntagma Square, protesters held up banners reading “No to the murder of Dimitris Koufodinas” and “No dead hunger striker.”
Prosecutors have urged authorities to take measures to protect Koufodinas’s life and health. Supporters accuse the authorities of ordering him to be force fed as a means of breaking his resistance.
In a high profile trial in 2003, Koufodinas and 14 other people who had eluded capture for years were found guilty over the 23 killings and dozens of bomb attacks claimed by the group.
November 17, named for the date of a student uprising repressed by a Greek military government, pursued an assassination campaign, killing U.S., British and Turkish diplomats as well as Greek police, officials and business figures.
(Reporting by Alkis Konstantinidis; Writing by Angeliki Koutantou)