Dimitri Messinis, Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece — Greece plans to loosen strict privacy laws to allow surveillance camera footage as evidence in court, following a "dangerous" escalation in violence during anti-government protests amid the financial crisis.
The proposed reforms, published Wednesday, follow warnings from top law enforcement officials that violent protesters are using potentially lethal means against police, including acid, crossbows and firebombs packed with firecrackers and metal shavings.
Justice Minister Miltiadis Papaioannou outlined the changes at a parliamentary committee hearing Tuesday and published them on his website Wednesday. He warned of a "major escalation" in violence in recent months.
He said the reforms also aim at permitting the identification of Internet bloggers who incite violence and make it more difficult for small groups of protesters to block road traffic.
Police have long sought the use of camera footage — currently only used to manage traffic — as evidence, arguing that violence during protests has escalated in recent months. If the reforms are passed, police also plan to install cameras in squad cars and motorcycles.
"Violence seen in public places in the last few months is undermining our democratic institutions," Papaioannou told parliament. "We are dealing with a phenomenon which has undergone a major escalation and is acutely dangerous."
Since Greece's debt crisis broke in late 2009, protesters have staged dozens of violent protests, and hounded politicians in their constituencies.
Papaioannou said working committees had been set up to amend legislation, allowing privacy-protection waivers for bloggers inciting violence.
"We have seen that small groups on the Internet use it as a tool to spread slander and threaten the lives of others," he said.
The legal reforms follow a warning from Greek police chief Eleftherios Oikonomou, who also said street violence at protests had seen a "dangerous escalation."
Testifying before a parliament committee on July 26, Oikonomou said 2,836 demonstrations had been held in 2011 across Greece, 778 of them in Athens.
During two days of rioting outside parliament in late June, 186 policemen were hospitalized with injuries and 20 tons of smashed paving stones and marbles were scattered on the streets of the capital, Oikonomou said.
In addition to crossbows, acid and other weapons, violent demonstrators, he warned, were also using flare guns, sling shots to fire large ball bearings, high-power laser pointers and oil meant to stick to clothing.
"Clearly, the other side wants someone dead," Oikonomou said, seeking a boost to the police's capability, including water canon.
Crisis-hit Greece is likely to face a new wave of protests this fall when a series of new austerity measures is set to take effect, while demonstrations have continued through the summer.
On Wednesday, striking Greek taxi owners voted to continue their protest through Saturday, despite concern from the country's tourism industry.
After six-hour talks in Athens, the drivers' associations said that key demands had not been met by the country's Socialist government over a shake up of licensing rules.
The strike was launched on July 18, with protesters staging blockades on highways, ports and airports around Greece.
Greece's rescue creditors from the eurozone and IMF want the country to open up dozens of professions to more competition, relax labor restrictions, and slash public sector payrolls.
The painful reforms and a protracted recession have pushed Greek unemployment to over 16 percent.
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