Protests continue in Athens

December 9, 2008 12:00 am

, ATHENS, Dec 9 – Tension continued Tuesday in Athens as demonstrators and police faced off in the student district after a night of urban violence, the third since the fatal police shooting of a schoolboy.

About 100 youths holed up in the polytechnic college near the national archaeological museum continued to badger the security forces, who countered with tear gas, a police source said.

But calm returned to the rest of the city centre, the scene until the small hours Tuesday of clashes, vandalism and looting of dozens of shops, banks and public buildings in an atmosphere rendered insufferable by tear gas.

Tension also dropped in Salonika to the north and the other cities hit by a wave of destruction and looting Monday night — Patras in the Peloponnese, Larissa in the centre, Canee in Crete and Ioannina in the North West.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called a cabinet crisis meeting late Monday as police fired volleys of tear gas in a bid to clear the centre of the Greek capital.

Karamanlis vowed to end the country’s worst unrest in decades but a government spokesman denied reports that the government planned to declare martial law despite fresh student protests planned Tuesday.

The unrest has left dozens injured and hundreds of buildings destroyed or badly damaged across the country. Greeks abroad also staged demonstrations in London, where five people were arrested, Berlin and Nicosia.

Ten people were treated in Athens hospitals for respiratory troubles caused by the blanket of tear gas over the city as the third day of battles for control of the streets went on into the night Monday, a health ministry spokesman said.

After the end of a demonstration by left-wing activists against the death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos, groups of youths spread out across the centre of the city.

Hooded and helmeted youths roamed the plush Kolonaki district, smashing stores near the Mexican embassy and British Council building before retreating. Protesters set fire to the lobby of the Hotel Athens Plaza on central Constitution Square.

In Salonika, a policeman was wounded by a firebomb and hundreds of youths attacked cars and looted dozens of stores. The unrest also went on into the night in Greece’s second biggest city.

Students have called their own rally in Athens on Tuesday to protest at the killing of the teenager during incidents with police on Saturday. A general strike on Wednesday, originally intended to protest against the government, could become a new focus of the unrest.

As despairing traders sifted through the wreckage left by weekend rioting, Karamanlis appeared on national television to denounce "the extremist elements who exploited the tragedy.

"The unacceptable and dangerous events cannot and will not be tolerated," said the conservative prime minister, whose popularity ratings have plummeted in recent months because of the state of the economy and a number of scandals.

At the end of the emergency cabinet meeting Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos defended police action against the riots saying it was intended to "protect human life and property."

But he added: "I am not satisfied and I apologise to the people."

Several universities in Athens and Salonika were ordered closed and the education ministry said high schools would also remain closed on Tuesday in tribute to the slain boy.

Greek police have arrested two officers involved in the shooting of the teenager in the Athens district of Exarchia on Saturday.

Grigoropoulos was among youths who had allegedly thrown stones at a police car in the Exarchia district of Athens. One of the two officers left his vehicle to fire three times at the teenager, who was hit in the chest, witnesses said. He was confirmed dead in a nearby hospital.

Epaminondas Korkoneas, 37, who allegedly fired the shots, and his patrol partner Vassilis Saraliotis, 31, were both detained.

Exarchia is a rebellious neighbourhood in central Athens, which is widely known as an "anarchist stronghold".

In 1985 another 15-year-old, Michalis Kaltezas, was shot by a police officer, triggering violent clashes in Exarchia, which was also the scene of student protests in 1973, which led to the fall of the country’s military dictatorship in 1974.


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