ATHENS, Dec 10 – A fourth night of violence pitting angry youths against riot police plunged Greece deeper into a social and political crisis hours ahead of a long-planned general strike Wednesday.
Clashes continued overnight in Athens and the northern town of Salonika but fizzled out by the morning.
In Athens, fights continued until 3:00 a.m. (0100 GMT) between police and more than 100 youths who made sorties from polytechnic and law schools they had occupied since Sunday.
In Salonika there were clashes until 2:00 a.m. between the forces of order and about 20 hardliners holed up in the philosophy faculty.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis blamed running battles between protesters and security forces — triggered by the killing of a teenager with a policeman’s bullet — on the "enemies of democracy."
Amid mounting calls for his fragile government to resign over the chaos, the prime minister warned that "the struggles of workers and the unjust death of a youth cannot be confused with acts of vandalism."
But Wednesday’s general strike was set to bring much of the country to a standstill, with airlines, public transport and even the media responding to union calls although organisers cancelled a planned rally in the capital.
It comes at the worst possible time for the Greek government, its majority having been trimmed to a single member in the 300-seat parliament following a financial scandal involving property deals.
"The government has lost public confidence," main opposition leader George Papandreou said. "The only thing it can give this country is to depart… to seek a public verdict so that the people can give a solution."
As Greece awaits a ballistics report which could shed light on the officer’s claim that the boy died from a ricochet, clashes continued Tuesday within walking distance of the cemetery where Alexis Grigoropoulos, 15, was buried.
Hundreds of protesters went on to raid stores in Nea Smyrni, south of central Athens, with locals later saying police who chased a series of groups of demonstrators for hours fired their weapons into the air.
And as midnight approached, protesters occupying the historic Athens Polytechnic University for a third night set the surrounding streets ablaze with firebombs as they targeted police who again responded with tear gas.
In the western port of Patras, some 500 youths laid siege to the police headquarters during the evening — with police saying around 100 subsequently made for the sanctuary of university buildings where ongoing violence flared.
The legacy of Greece’s years under military dictatorship, ending in 1974, means that police are banned from entering premises which have become a haven for radicals who argue that state security apparatus benefit from impunity.
Greek agency ANA said clashes were also reported over the course of Tuesday in Corinth, Ioaninna, Alexandroupolis, Larissa and on the Aegean islands of Mytilene and Rhodes, emphasising the nationwide pressure piling on Karamanlis.
Back in Athens, riot police dragged away tear-gassed protesters from outside the Greek parliament and the main police HQ after petrol bombs were hurled at their lines in a bid to breach a cordon around official buildings.
Fans also observed a minute’s silence at Tuesday night’s Champions League soccer victory for Greek giants Panathinaikos over Cypriot rivals Anorthosis, which passed off without major incident after a heavy police deployment.
At the last count across Greece, 108 people have been arrested — with one of the most graphic attacks by looting rioters involving swords and slingshots stolen from a weapons shop, Athens police said.
Twenty-nine people have been hospitalised, most with respiratory problems from the cloud of tear gas which blanketed Athens amid the burnt out rubbish bins, glass and paving slabs torn off sidewalks littering its streets.
Emergency services said fires were put out at 49 office buildings, 47 shops, 14 banks, 20 cars and three ministries, while Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis told private TV station MEGA that over 370 shops may have been attacked.
Grigoropoulos was allegedly among a group of youths that had thrown stones at a squad car in a district of Athens that is known as a radical stronghold. The policeman who fired the shots and his partner have been arrested.