Athens cracks down on night life

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The Independent Online
GREECE'S nightclub 'commando force' began enforcing the government's 'early-to-bed decree' this weekend, raiding some 3,000 bars and clubs throughout Athens.

Youths opposed to the new law, which restricts nighclub hours and entry to minors, clashed with police in the capital on Saturday. Two police officers and about half a dozen youngsters were injured in the clashes, which resulted in 25 arrests. Thirteen youths described as 'anarchists' by police were still being held yesterday pending charges today.

The most serious clashes occured when police tried to put a stop to a party organised by Act Up, an Aids support group. They said some 100 party-goers began attacking the officers while Act Up officials said police used force in trying to break up the party.

The police brigades, known to the Greek press as 'the untouchables', were sent into action by the Minister of Public Order, Stelios Papathemalis, an advocate of 'back to basics' moral and religious values.

After midnight in Athens is like rush hour anywhere else, and the city's 2,000 nightclubs are packed virtually every night. Accidents caused by drink driving are common and for the average Greek on low wages a night on the town can be very expensive.

By enforcing a controversial new 2am closing time, the deeply religious Mr Papathamelis hopes to get Greeks to go to bed much earlier, and thereby deliver a badly needed boost to national productivity. In the summer clubs will be permitted to stay open until 2.30am and will be granted an hour's extension on Saturdays. They must also stop selling alcohol to youths under 17 years of age.

Mr Papathemalis was out with some of the police brigades as they moved to bring Greece into line with the rest of the European Union by enforcing the nation's first ever closing time. For his efforts to stamp out 'lethargy' at work and protect the country's youth against the 'night-time temptations' of drugs and alcoholism, he has been mercilessly pilloried in the Greek media. But he was unrepentant yesterday as he supervised police action that resulted in 36 owners of bars and discotheques being fined.