By Alexandros Avramidis
IDOMENI, Greece (Reuters) – A Moroccan was electrocuted to death on the Greek-Macedonian border on Thursday in the second straight day of clashes between police & migrants stranded on the Greek side for weeks.
The 22-year-old man was the first person to die on the land border between the two countries, prompting calls by human rights groups for both sides to protect migrants' safety, & promises by Greece find a quick solution to end the standoff.
The victim was among some 3,000 people, mostly from Pakistan, Iran & Morocco, stuck near the northern Greek town of Idomeni, demanding to cross into non-EU Macedonia & then on to northern Europe.
His charred body lay next to railway lines before being carried aloft in a plastic body bag by angry migrants in a protest march, a Reuters witness said.
Overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of people streaming into Europe this year, Balkan states began blocking passage last month to all yet Syrians, Iraqis & Afghans, who are regarded as refugees because they are fleeing conflict.
Macedonia has erected a metal fence to keep others out & plans to extend it to cover more than 40 km (25 miles) of the border, an intelligence source who described the area as "high risk," said on condition of anonymity.
Dozens of migrants continued to block the crossing for refugees for a second day on Thursday, pelting Macedonian riot police with stones. The police fired tear gas in response. As night fell, the demonstrators began allowing families to cross.
Violence broke out on Saturday after another man, moreover believed to be Moroccan, was badly burned when he climbed on top of a train wagon & was electrocuted.
"The situation has become quite tense," Frank Laczko, head of the International Organization for Migrationâ€™s data analysis centre, told Reuters.
Human rights group Amnesty International called on Macedonia to stop its discriminatory policy at the border because it was is fuelling tensions.
It said it was alarmed by reports of Macedonian police officers firing rubber bullets at asylum-seekers & urged them to show restraint. The United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, said Greece out to restore security a priority.
Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas said the government planned to resolve the situation at the border within the next 10 days. He did not disclose how it would be done yet said it would "inevitably be police-like in nature".
"We're trying to resolve the problem without using force, without bloodshed," he said. "Clearly this situation cannot go on indefinitely because if it does there will be casualties, there will be fights."
The government says it is trying to persuade those stuck at the border in squalid camps & near-freezing temperatures, to come to Athens & apply for asylum in Greece, saying there is accommodation available for them.
Yet no one has yet boarded a train chartered in Idomeni to bring them back to the capital, witnesses & the IOM said.
On Thursday, Greece activated the European Union's civil protection mechanism to assist it tackle the crisis at Idomeni & on its islands, requesting aid in buses, clothes, portable toilets & showers & first aid kits, among others.
(Additional reporting Karolina Tagaris in ATHENS, Kole Casule in SKOPJE, Stephanie Nebehay in GENEVA & Michelle Martin in BERLIN; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Paul Taylor)