Wealthy Greeks set to pay for police bodyguard

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Wealthy Greeks fearing attacks by anarchist groups will no longer be entitled to free police bodyguards in the latest cost-cutting plan from a government trying to meet budget targets set by international creditors.

The Public Order Ministry said Tuesday that individuals with a net income of more than 100,000 euros ($132,500) a year will have to pay for their own police protection from potential terrorist and organized crime attacks. Under the plan, they will have to pay 2,000 euros ($2,650) per month for each officer acting as a bodyguard and a daily fee of 50 euros for use of a patrol car.

The new pay-for-protection scheme still needs to be signed off by the Finance Ministry and will not include elected officials, judges, or public sector executives. Private citizens currently receiving police protection include prominent businessmen and journalists who have been repeatedly threatened by anarchist groups, though few of the warnings have been specific.

Nevertheless, there’s been a resurgence of attacks lately amid growing public hostility toward those, whether in the public or private sector, seen as corrupt and incompetent and blamed for Greece’s economic crisis.

It is the latest in a series of austerity measures that the Greek government has had to enact in recent years in return for bailout cash to avoid bankruptcy. However, the spending cuts and tax increases have come at a heavy cost to the Greek economy. The country is in its sixth year of recession and the country’s unemployment rate has spiked to over 25 percent.

The Greek state has routinely provided a level of protection to individuals widely seen as potential targets of far-left and anarchist militant groups. However, in this time of austerity, the police budget has become strained and the government is looking around for ways to keep a lid on costs.

“This is part of the effort to recover the cost of assigning police officers and equipment and to support the pension fund of Greek Police personnel,” a ministry statement said.

The ministry declined to make any immediate comment on the number of officers involved in security details and the projected amount of money that would be saved.

The Greek Police Officers’ Association said the government had the right to recover some of the cost it spent on protection of individual citizens but described the system as poorly organized, reviewed infrequently, and governed by political influence. Police officers have borne a large brunt of the cuts to public sector pay. A typical officer receives around 1,100 euros ($1,460) in take-home monthly pay, while bonuses worth €300-400 euros ($400-530) to those on bodyguard duty per month have been scrapped.

“We are a country of exaggeration — in every aspect. Our response depends on what kind of pressure is applied and who it is applied by,” the head of the association, Christos Fotopoulos, told the Associated Press, adding that security details were must larger in Greece than elsewhere in Europe.

“No one can tell you how many officers are involved in (personal) protection because the whole system is governed by confusion … In other European countries, a prime minister or former president may go about his day with almost no security. In Greece, even a religious event requires a whole detail of police.”

He added: “We must be careful this measure does not backfire … There is a concern that we get to a point when someone with enough money can buy his own security, and someone who does not will be left more exposed.”

Last month, an armed group named Informal Anarchist Federation, which has links to other European militants, claimed responsibility for a series of parcel bomb attacks this year, one targeting the former director of the police’s anti-terrorism division.

“The cops, the judges, journalists, politicians and washed-out anarchists thought they had gotten rid of us,” the group said in a statement posted on the Internet. “This is a punch in the stomach to them, because urban guerrilla warfare is back and it will crush all their aspirations.”

In a report Monday, bailout monitors from the European Union pressed Greece to speed up cost-cutting reforms, including extensive public sector staff cuts, and announced that emergency taxes that have drastically cut into consumer spending are likely to be extended for another year, through 2016.

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