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Greek government under fire after #MeToo shock arrest

It is the latest in a series of scandals involving allegations of sexual abuse in the fields of arts, sport and education that have rocked the country in recent weeks.

FILE: The Lignadis affair appears to be part of a wider issue in the arts world. Picture: Pixabay.com

ATHENS, Greece - Greece's conservative government on Monday rejected calls to sack its culture minister after a top theatre appointee was arrested over rape claims, but promised a new ethics code.

It is the latest in a series of scandals involving allegations of sexual abuse in the fields of arts, sport and education that have rocked the country in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is under growing pressure to sack Culture Minister Lina Mendoni over claims of a deeply entrenched climate of fear and abuse in Greece's art establishment.

That pressure increased over the weekend after Dimitris Lignadis, the former artistic director of Greece's national theatre, was arrested on Saturday on allegations of raping minors, including migrant children.

"Greek society has watched in shock as a series of heinous acts come to the fore," deputy government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni told reporters Monday.

"We listen to the victims. We support them."

But she insisted Mendoni would remain in her ministerial post.

"The country needs ethics codes, a framework to prevent any form of abuse," she said. "The government will adopt an overall initiative in this direction."

'PROFOUND' ACTING SKILLS

The Lignadis affair appears to be part of a wider issue in the arts world.

The head of Greece's actors' guild, Spyros Bibilas, on Monday testified before an investigator following reports that the association had received hundreds of complaints regarding decades of alleged sex abuse, sex harassment and intimidation.

Mendoni was widely mocked last week after telling reporters Lignadis had "duped" her with his "profound" acting skills when she pressed him on the abuse claims.

Calling him a "dangerous man", she insisted: "We didn't cover up anything. We know the artists, not their personal life."

The government's special secretary for the protection of unaccompanied minors, Irene Agapidaki, called on Monday for a full judicial inquiry into claims that migrant children had been molested between 2017 and 2018.

Lignadis, 56, resigned on February 6 citing a "toxic climate of rumours, innuendo and leaks".

But he has strongly denied being at the centre of numerous allegations of sexual abuse of minors, reported in Greek media.

Now in police custody, he is expected to testify on Wednesday.

Greek news reports said on Monday that investigators were also looking into abuse claims involving a second prominent actor.

  • A wave of allegations -
    The main opposition leftist Syriza party has accused the conservative government of trying to cover up the Lignadis case, claiming he is a personal friend of Mitsotakis.

The prime minister's office has vehemently denied this.

More than three years after the #MeToo movement surfaced in the United States, the code of silence in Greece was broken last December by a two-time Olympic sailing medallist, Sofia Bekatorou.

Bekatorou said that when she was 21 when she was subjected to "sexual harassment and abuse" by a senior federation member in his hotel room, shortly after trials for the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Her disclosure encouraged many other women and men in sports, arts and academia to step forward, breaking decades of silence.

A 38-year-old sailing coach accused of raping an 11-year-old athlete was arrested last month.

Also Monday, a 62-year-old school teacher was detained over allegations that he had molested a boy originally aged eight over a seven-year period.

Several women have also alleged sexual harassment by professors at Thessaloniki's Aristotle University, one of the country's top higher learning institutions.

But the statute of limitations on many of the complaints has lapsed, meaning they cannot be prosecuted.

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