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Greece blasts Macedonia over migrant border violence
[ATHENS] Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused neighbouring Macedonia on Monday of "shaming" Europe by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at migrants desperately trying to break through a border fence.
Tensions are still running high after Sunday's violence, which saw 250 refugees and migrants hurt at the flashpoint Idomeni crossing as they tried to force their way into Macedonia.
Another brawl broke out Monday between rival nationalities in which a tent was set on fire, an AFP reporter said.
Mr Tsipras said Macedonian police had used tear gas and rubber bullets on Sunday against "people who were clearly not armed and constituted no serious threat".
"This is a great shame for European culture and for countries who want to be part of it," he said, calling on the EU and the UN refugee agency UNHCR to take a stand as Europe struggles with its worst migration crisis since World War II.
The UNHCR urged EU countries to put into action a much-delayed scheme to relocate some 160,000 refugees across the bloc.
"A wider solution - namely to relocate those who may qualify for international protection to other European states - has been agreed for many months. It needs action," the UN agency said.
This was the latest violence to erupt at Idomeni, where more than 11,000 migrants have been living in grim conditions for weeks after Balkan states closed their borders, cutting off access to western Europe.
Greek police minister Nikos Toskas warned that violence against migrants could fuel religious extremism.
"Those beaten yesterday are the jihadists of tomorrow if we are not careful," Mr Toskas told Skai radio.
Many of those stuck at the border are refugees fleeing war in Syria and Iraq.
Macedonia, which has aspirations to join the European Union, has hit back.
It accused Greek police of failing to intervene as around 3,000 migrants "violently" tried to cross the frontier, hurling stones and other objects and injuring police.
Medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said 200 people suffered breathing problems, 30 sustained injuries from rubber bullets - three of them children under 10 - and 30 had other injuries.
The refugee crisis has piled further pressure on already strained ties between the two neighbours over a two-decade dispute over Macedonia's name.
Athens does not accept its neighbour using the name Macedonia, claiming to have a historical right to the name because the heart of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom lies in Greece's northern Macedonia region.
The squalid encampment at Idomeni has become a symbol of the misery faced by thousands who have fled war and poverty to reach Europe, and Greek efforts to move them into nearby reception centres have so far been unsuccessful.
Germany said it was watching developments there "with concern" and urged all states to ensure border security was strictly in line with human rights.
"We are watching with concern the difficult living conditions in the provisional camp Idomeni and the events of the past 24 to 48 hours on the Greece-Macedonia border," said Steffen Seibert, spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Asked about the actions of the Macedonian border guards, he said: "Controlling the borders must, in every country, be in line with international legal standards."
He urged migrants to move into Greece's official shelters and to stop attempting illegal border crossings, saying this was "not a hopeful option".
The European Commission has also called for the people blocked at Idomeni to be relocated, with spokeswoman Mina Andreeva warning them not to push ahead with "a dangerous and irregular onward journey".
Sunday's violence broke out after Arabic-language leaflets distributed around the camp falsely suggested the border was about to open, prompting Greece to double its police presence in the area.
Mr Tsipras on Monday blamed non-Greek volunteers for "inciting" migrants to storm the fence.
"I am told (some of them) are staying at Gevgelija (on the Macedonian side) and go back and forth," he said.
Sunday's violence has only served to escalate the row between Athens and Skopje.
Countries which display behaviour "incomprehensible and unacceptable to humanity certainly have no place in the EU or NATO," Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said.
"I am referring to (Macedonia) specifically." Skopje has furiously defended its actions, saying 23 of its border police were injured Sunday and accusing Greek police of failing to lift a finger to stop the migrants.
It also denied using any kind of bullets against the crowd, despite MSF reporting that it treated "30 to 40 people" for rubber bullet injuries.
"According to their accounts, Macedonian police fired on them," spokesman Jonas Haeensen said.
The Greek government said it had lodged two "very strong protests" with Macedonian authorities.