Macedonian police fired stun grenades Friday to disperse thousands of migrants stuck in a no man's land with Greece and clashed with them as they desperately tried to rush over the border, a day after Macedonia's government declared a state of emergency on the frontier to halt a human tide heading north to the European Union.
About 3,000 migrants who spent the night in the open made several attempts to charge the police — and some hurled stones at the Macedonian forces. At least eight people were injured in the melee, according to Greek police.
Machine-gun toting police backed by armored vehicles spread coils of razor wire over rail tracks used by migrants to cross on foot from Greece to Macedonia, and the army was deployed Friday to the border areas. Macedonia shut the border to crossings on Thursday.
Hours after Friday's clashes, however, Macedonian police started letting small groups of families with children cross by walking along railway tracks to a station in the Macedonian town of Gevgelija, where most take trains to the border with Serbia.
"They are letting groups of about 30-40 people go, probably because they want to control the rush into Macedonia," said a Syrian who gave only his first name, Hassan. He was walking with his family and children over a rusty bridge toward Gevgelija. "I think they'll let all of us go eventually."
Dozens of people fainted as they tried to position themselves in the line to cross, with riot police pushing them back with shields against the tide. Children cried and women wept in the chaotic scenes that left many migrants stranded for another night on the dusty field.
Greece has seen an unprecedented wave of migrants this year, most fleeing wars in Syria and Afghanistan. More than 160,000 have arrived so far, mostly crossing in inflatable dinghies from the nearby Turkish coast — an influx that has overwhelmed Greek authorities and the country's small Aegean islands.