fires rage as thousands riot for third day in Greece
By Daniel Flynn and Dina Kyriakidou
ATHENS (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters rampaged through the heart of Athens on Monday, burning and looting shops on a third day of riots sparked by the killing of a teenager by police.
Tear gas filled Syntagma square outside Greece’s parliament as police clashed with left-wing demonstrators, beating some with batons and detaining others.
Anger over the 15-year-old boy’s killing has fed into resentment over economic hardships and could topple an unpopular conservative government.
“We are experiencing moments of a great social revolution,” said leftist activist Panagiotis Sotiris, 38, among those occupying a university building. “The protests will last as long as necessary.”
Protests were reported in more than 10 cities across the nation of 11 million people, including the northern city of Thessaloniki and the tourist islands of Crete and Corfu.
Youths appeared to be in control of central Athens, plundering and setting fire to shops, destroying banks and attacking ministries. The city’s huge Christmas tree went up in flames.
“We are not counting any more… The incidents cannot be counted,” said a fire brigade officer.
Firemen extinguished a fire at one department store but the headquarters of Olympic Airways were still burning and all the city’s fire engines were on the streets, he said.
More than 130 shops have already been destroyed in the capital, crushing retailers’ hope that Christmas would compensate for Greece’s darkening economic outlook. Police have detained more than 35 people and more than 50 are injured.
GOVERNMENT UNDER PRESSURE
With a 24-hour general strike due on Wednesday against economic reforms, analysts said Greece’s worst riots in decades looked set to continue and could threaten the conservative government, which has a one-seat parliamentary majority.
“Enough with this government, which doesn’t understand the problems of this country,” said George Papandreou, leader of socialist PASOK opposition party.
The socialists already held a strong lead in opinion polls before the riots, riding a wave of discontent at the ruling New Democracy party’s privatisations and pension reforms. Political analysts say an early election could be called next year.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis expressed sorrow for the family of the dead boy but warned demonstrators to stop. The government would try to compensate property owners, he said.
“We will not tolerate unacceptable and dangerous events prompted by the tragic incident,” he said on Monday, in his first public appearance since the riots began.
As night fell on the Greek capital, thousands marched arm-in-arm through the city’s main streets. Anarchists smashed car windows and chanted “Cops, Pigs, Murderers.” Some threw fire bombs at police and, for a third night, businesses burnt and explosions rang out.
The shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a policeman on Saturday has kindled smouldering anger among Greek youths, resentful at a widening gap between rich and poor made worse by the global credit crisis.
Violence at student rallies and fire bomb attacks by anarchists are common, especially in Athens’ Exarchia district where the boy was shot. But anger at the boy’s killing has even reached Greeks overseas, who protested in London and Berlin.
In Athens, more than a dozen police stations were damaged by demonstrators, who also raided a small pro-government newspaper and broke into a weapons shop, emerging with ninja swords and knives. Millions of euros of property were damaged.
Thessaloniki also saw street battles between police and hundreds of protesters, who smashed shops and threw rocks at government offices. Clashes took place in Crete and Corfu as well as the cities of Volos, Komotini and Chania.
Two police officers have been charged over the shooting — one with murder and the other as an accomplice. A police statement said one officer fired three shots after their car was attacked by 30 youths in Exarchia.
A police official said the officer had described firing warning shots, but witnesses told TV he took aim at the boy. A coroner’s report on Monday said it was not possible to be sure.