Greeks in pre-trial detention for migrant shooting

A Greek fruit exporter and three foremen arrested over a near-deadly shooting attack against migrant labourers were placed in pre-trial detention on Monday, police said.

The four men were arrested in the Peloponnese peninsula last week after the incident in which around 30 strawberry pickers demanding long-overdue pay were wounded, some of them seriously.

The Supreme Court prosecutor on Monday said the victims would be granted special protection to prevent their deportation so they can testify.

The migrants, mainly from Bangladesh, will be granted human trafficking victim status, a judicial source said.

The attack occurred in the village of Manolada in the west of the peninsula, one of the main areas of strawberry production in Greece.

The three foremen, two of whom are brothers, are accused of firing at a crowd of 200 migrants who had gathered to demand back pay which in some cases stretched to six months.

The three defendants said they had acted in self-defence as the crowd had become hostile. They claim that they were firing at the ground and that the bullets deflected onto the victims.

On Monday, one of them spat at reporters outside the courtroom in the town of Amaliada, television images showed.

The 57-year-old farm and company owner was also arrested as a "moral instigator" of the shootings.

The company owner, who denies involvement, has complained of heart trouble and was hospitalised under guard in the neighbouring town of Pyrgos.

He is to be taken to Korydallos prison in Athens with two of the other defendants. The youngest shooter, who is 21, will be taken to a youth prison in Avlona, police said.

One of the shooting suspects was involved in another attack last year against an Egyptian labourer who was dragged from a car and injured in a similar dispute over pay.

Two more men were arrested for harbouring the shooters after the incident on April 17. One was released with a suspended sentence on Monday while the other will be tried in May.

The government condemned the shooting but unions noted that the incident was only the latest in a long history of abuse of migrant workers in Greece.

In 2008, Manolada was the focal point of a rare strike by hundreds of migrant workers against near-slavery conditions in the fields.

Hundreds of seasonal workers, most of them foreign, are employed in local farms for meagre wages, living in shacks and forced to pay rent to their employers.

They work in greenhouses in temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) for a salary of around 22 euros ($29) a day.

The treatment of migrants in Greece has long been criticised by domestic and international rights groups, to little avail.