NICOSIA: Cyprus police said Saturday they arrested 13 people when an anti-migrant march in the island’s second city, Limassol, turned violent with mobs vandalising property.

Five people were injured during the unrest that broke out on Friday evening in the southern coastal city after about 500 people had taken to the streets for the march, the police said.

Trash bins were set alight and some shops were vandalised, police said, while eyewitnesses cited by Cypriot media outlets said some foreigners were attacked.

Police used water cannon to disperse the protesters, some of them hooded and holding a banner that read “Refugees not welcome”.

The violence came days after about 20 people were arrested during violent clashes between Cypriots and migrants near the western resort of Paphos, where authorities have started removing Syrians from a condemned apartment complex.

European Union member Cyprus says it is a “front-line country” on the Mediterranean migrant route, struggling to cope with an influx of irregular migrants.

The latest EU data shows Cyprus has the highest number of first-time asylum applications relative to population in the 27-member bloc.

Authorities said this week that migrants comprise an estimated six percent of the island’s population. The bloc’s average is around one percent.

Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides held an emergency meeting Saturday to discuss the Limassol unrest with the police chief and his justice and interior ministers.

It is the second emergency meeting in a week after Tuesday’s session following the Paphos violence.

A visibly angry Christodoulides told reporters: “There is not much that can be said other than the embarrassing images we have seen.

“They have nothing to do with dealing with immigration.

“If all those involved (in the Limassol incidents) loved or cared about our country, they would not have taken such actions which, above all, insult our country.”

Despite the tensions, the number of migrants applying for asylum in Cyprus dropped by 53 percent over a recent five-month period, according to interior ministry data.

More than 10,600 people applied for asylum from March to July 2022, compared with 4,976 in the same period this year, the figures showed.

But police data shows a rise in the number of migrants arriving by sea, with more than 500 landing on 45 small fishing boats or inflatable dinghies in the past three months, the vast majority from Syria. - AFP

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