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Prison leave for November 17 convict Dimitris Koufontinas causes outcry

USA, Britain and Turkey all condemn action

The release of convicted terrorist Dimitris Koufontinas on a 2-day leave from maximum security prison Korydallos on Thursday caused an international outcry and has drawn negative media attention on Greece. The 48-hour leave of Koufontinas, who had acted as one of terrorist group’s “November 17” shooters, resulted in strong reactions both domestically and internationally, including the US, Britain and Turkey.

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The SYRIZA-led government changed the strict law applying to prison leaves which had been implemented in 2014 by previous the government of New Democracy (ND) in 2014, making it more lenient on inmates.

Major opposition party ND reacted strongly to the news, with leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressing his disagreement to the leave, as did a number of ND MPs. ND MP Dora Bakoyannis, who had been immediately affected by the group, as her husband Pavlos Bakoyannis was murdered by November 17 in 1989, used strong words of condemnation during a heated debate in Greece parliament.

The government denied any responsibility, referring to the legal framework applicable to prison leaves, although, besides changing the law, it indirectly assisted in granting the permit through people the Justice Ministry had appointed to the board of correctional facilities responsible for issuing prison leaves.

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On the international front, the US voiced the strongest disapproval with the US State Department spokesman Heather Nauert  expressing “tremendous concern” and fears that Koufantinas would not return to jail, noting that “in the past, some of the convicted members of November 17 have been released and then disappeared.”

Mrs. Nauert noted that “Greece has released a convicted terrorist of November 17 group. We would like to condemn the release of the convicted terrorist Dimitris Koufontinas, who was released for two days from the Greek prisons. ”

Earlier US Ambassador to Athens Jeffrey Ryatt had tweeted that the leave to Dimitris Koufontinas offended the memory of the victims of 17N and their families.

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UK Ambassador to Greece Kate Smith also expressed her “deepest disappointment” about the decision of the Korydallos Prison board to grant Koufontinas a 48-hour leave.
The British diplomat posted on Twitter in Greek and accompanied her comment with a photo of a plaque dedicated to the memory of Stephen Saunders, who was murdered by November 17 in June 2000.

The Turkish foreign ministry released a statement pointing out that Athens had “demonstrated tolerance” to Dimitris Koufontinas, “a blood-thirsty terrorist”, reminding of the Turkish diplomats who had fallen victims to the terrorist group in the 90s.