Clashes in Athens over anti-migrant fence

ATHENS Sat Jan 15, 2011 1:25pm EST

1 of 7. Far-right protesters shout slogans as they hold Greek national flags on the steps of Agios Panteleimonas church during a rally in Athens January 15,

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Far-right protesters threw stones at a pro-migrant march in Athens on Saturday before being dispersed by bursts of teargas, police said, in the latest sign of tension over the capital's growing immigrant population.

Over 1,000 members of anti-racism groups, leftists and immigrants were marching in central Athens to protest against a controversial plan to build a fence at the border with Turkey to stop illegal immigrants from entering Greece.

"Over 100 members of neo-Nazi groups and about 200 local residents attacked the leftists and other protesters with stones. The police used several rounds of teargas and flash grenades," a police official said.

A Reuters witness said police arrested at least one protester.

An estimated half a million illegal immigrants and asylum seekers live in the Mediterranean state of about 11 million inhabitants, many of them in Athens, and an increasing share of those trying to reach the EU come in through Greece.

A survey conducted by the Alco polling group for weekly newspaper Thema showed on Saturday that 73 percent of respondents back the plan to build a 12.5 km fence at the border with Turkey.

Greece, which has become the main immigrant gateway to the European Union, has a growing Muslim community and tensions between locals and incomers have run high in some Athens areas.

In November, dozens of far-right activists and local residents threw eggs and taunted hundreds of Muslim immigrants as they gathered to pray in a central square for Eid al-Adha surrounded by a protective cordon of riot police.

(Reporting by John Kolesidis and Lefteris Papadimas; editing by Ingrid Melander and Noah Barkin)

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