Greek PM Tsipras accuses Macedonia of 'shameful' actions against border migrants

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had accused Macedonia of "shaming" Europe by attacking migrants with tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had accused Macedonia of "shaming" Europe by attacking migrants with tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse them. PHOTO: EPA

ATHENS (AFP) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused neighbouring Macedonia on Monday (April 11) of "shaming" Europe by using what he said was tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of migrants who tried to breach the border at the weekend.

"Faced with people who were clearly not armed and constituted no serious threat, they attacked with chemicals, with tear gas and rubber bullets," Tsipras told reporters.

"This is a great shame for European culture and for countries who want to be part of it," he said, calling on the EU and the UN refugee agency to take a stand on the issue.

President Prokopis Pavlopoulos also weighed in to the row, saying countries which display such "unacceptable and incomprehensible behaviour" have "no place in the EU or Nato", without naming Macedonia directly.

Macedonia says police on the Greek side failed to intervene as around 3,000 migrants "violently" tried to cross the frontier in Sunday's incident, hurling stones and other objects and injuring 23 security officers.

Skopje also denied any use of rubber bullets, although Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it had treated 30 people for such wounds.

Tsipras on Monday blamed groups of non-Greek volunteers for "inciting" the migrants to storm the fence.

"I am told (some of them) are staying at Gevgelija (on the Macedonian side) and go back and forth," he said.

The refugee crisis has piled further pressure on relations between the two neighbours, which are already strained by a two-decade dispute over Macedonia's name.

Athens denies its neighbour the use of the name Macedonia, claiming to have a historical right to it because the heart of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom lies in Greece's own northern Macedonia region.

Tensions mounted in the Idomeni border camp on Sunday a day after pamphlets were distributed in Arabic saying the border would be reopened.

The makeshift encampment at Idomeni, where over 11,000 people are living in squalid and overcrowded conditions, has become a symbol of the misery faced by thousands who have fled war and poverty to reach Europe.

Efforts by the Greek authorities to persuade migrants to leave Idomeni and move to nearby reception centres have not been successful, with many people preferring to stay put in the hope the border will be opened.

Sunday's incident came a day after four women and a child drowned off the Greek island of Samos, in the first deaths in the Aegean Sea since a controversial EU-Turkey deal to stem the flow of refugees took effect three weeks ago.