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Migrants clash with Greek police at border after Turkey opens floodgates

Greek police fired tear gas trying to stop migrants who sought to force their way across the border from Turkey

Migrants trying to reach Europe have clashed violently with Greek riot police as Turkey claimed more than 76,000 people were now heading for the EU as a result of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to open the Turkish side of the border.

Officers fired teargas at the migrants, some of whom threw stones and wielded metal bars as they sought to force their way into Greece at the normally quiet crossing in the north-eastern town of Kastanies.

Greece's Skai TV said Greeks had taken to using loudspeakers in the Kastanies border area to tell migrants, in English and Arabic that they were not welcome: "The Borders are Shut!"

A Greek government source put the number of people gathered on the Turkish side of the border on Sunday at 3,000, while the International Organization for Migration estimated the number at 13,000.

Turkey said on Thursday it would no longer restrain hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in its territory from reaching Europe, their preferred destination, despite a commitment to do so under a deal reached with the European Union in 2016.

Turkey's turnabout came after an air strike killed 33 Turkish soldiers in neighbouring northwest Syria where Ankara has deployed forces to help secure its border against a new influx of refugees from the Syrian civil war.

Turkey has said funds promised by the EU to help it deal with 3.7 million Syrian refugees already in the country has been slow to arrive; Ankara had threatened several times in the past to open the floodgates if it did not receive more support.

Its announcement that it had stopped containing migrants within the country triggered an almost instant rush to the border it shares with EU member state Greece.

The EU said it was supporting Greece and its neighbour Bulgaria, which also has a border with Turkey - in protecting the 27-nation bloc's outer frontiers.

In unscripted remarks at his Sunday blessing on the refugee situation, Pope Francis, who visited Lesbos in 2016, said: "I am a bit saddened by the news about so many displaced people, so many men, women and children thrown out because of war. In these days the situation has become much more serious."

No migrants had so far tried to cross into Bulgaria from Turkey, but tensions were escalating at Turkish-Greek crossing points "very close" to Bulgarian territory, therefore Sofia had bolstered its own frontier patrols against any illegal entry, Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov told national radio.

Published: March 2, 2020