Police show of strength ordered to tackle immigrant crime wave

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 March, 1998, 12:00am

The country's entire 45,000-strong police force was ordered out on patrol on Tuesday to combat a record rise in crime.

The latest crimes include the murder of a retired British couple on the Ionian island of Cephalonia and a nationwide surge in violent robberies blamed on a new breed of Balkan gangster.

Among more than 500,000 migrants who have streamed into the country from poorer Balkan neighbours are hundreds of hardened criminals from Albania and Romania.

Much of the violent surge has been blamed on ruthless Albanian 'bandits' bent on smuggling drugs and weapons into the West.

This year armed robberies in Athens have soared by more than 300 per cent, with hit-and-run raids on pedestrians not far behind.

Many incidents have involved hooded men with grenades shooting wildly into the air with sawn-off shotguns.

The Socialist Government has ordered an immediate crackdown.

Desk-bound officers who have not been on the beat for years will have to join thousands of other police, including anti-terrorist units, in patrolling the streets.

'No policeman will stay behind his desk,' said the Public Order Minister, George Romaios. 'From now on every policeman will be out there patrolling day and night.' The case of two Albanian immigrants who admitted killing Roy and Judith Eccles with a butcher's knife and pitchfork on the island of Cephalonia has provoked unprecedented fury in a country that, until recently, was one of Europe's most peaceful.

Because of their proximity to Albania the Ionian Islands, which continue to draw more British holidaymakers than any other part of Greece, have been particularly hard hit by the criminals.

Last year, the Government was forced to send warships to the Corfu channel when Albanian pirates began harassing British tourists on pleasure boats.

'We do not intend to organise pogroms against foreigners,' said Mr Romaios. 'But what happened on Cephalonia is yet another example of foreigners being involved in crime.'