Greek islanders attack riot police in migrant camp protests

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Riot police block a road in Karava near the area where the government plans to build a new migrant detention center, on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. Riot police and residents clashed for several hours on the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios Tuesday, as protesters tried to prevent authorities from bringing excavating machines from the mainland to build new migrant detention camps. (AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

ATHENS – Greece's government hoped to defuse tensions after protests over plans for new migrant camps on two of its islands Wednesday turned into violent clashes between police and local residents, some armed with Molotov cocktails and shotguns.

Hundreds of residents attacked police officers guarding the sites of the future detention camps on the islands of Lesbos and Chios. A large crowd later laid siege for hours to a Lesbos army camp where riot-control squads were billeted.

Dozens of police officers were injured during the unrest, and the Greek government's spokesman said many of the riot police deployed to the islands this week would be pulled out.

Government migration officials have vowed to press ahead with plans to replace overcrowded and squalid migrant camps with more restrictive detention centers. But local officials and residents oppose the plans, with many demanding that no migrants should remain on the islands.

Local authorities declared a 24-hour strike and staged large protest rallies that devolved into the violence Wednesday. Greek officials said 43 police officers were injured on Lesbos, which sees the most arrivals as migrants cross the sea from nearby Turkey. Two had leg wounds from shotgun blasts, officials said.

Another nine officers were injured on Chios, where an angry mob burst into a hotel used by riot police, beat up officers resting in their rooms and threw out their belongings.

One man was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack and another was being sought. Police said 10 protesters were injured on both islands.

Greece's Aegean Sea islands are a main entry point for migrants seeking better lives in the European Union. Managing the flow of people — and growing discontent among island residents —has become the main challenge for the center-right government of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.