Greek violence flares for sixth day, Athens calmer

By Daniel Flynn and Lefteris Papadimas ATHENS (Reuters) – Gangs of dozens of high school students hurled stones and fire bombs at police stations in several Athens suburbs on Thursday, in a sixth day of violence which has shaken Greece’s conservative government.

Central Athens was calmer than in previous days as people returned to work after a 24-hour general strike on Wednesday called by unions against pension reforms and privatizations.

But some 500 people besieged the central police station in the northern city of Thessaloniki, while crowds gathered in the western port of Patras and the northern city of Ioannina.

Trouble restarted before dawn when students occupying the university clashed with police. It spread to 15 police stations in the capital in protest against a patrolman’s shooting of a teenager, which sparked the worst riots in decades.

Some students carried banners reading “Why?” in reference to the police killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos on Saturday, which ignited public anger at police brutality and economic hardships aggravated by the global downturn.

With a student rally scheduled later in central Athens and protests announced for Friday and Monday, many Greeks asked how much longer the government could remain in power.

“The government has shown it cannot handle this. If police start imposing the law everyone will say the military junta is back,” said Yannis Kalaitzakis, 49, an electrician. “The government is stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Many people were angry that the 37-year-old policeman charged with murdering the teenager did not express remorse to investigators on Wednesday. He said he fired warning shots in self-defense which ricocheted to kill the youth.

“Pouring petrol on the flames,” Ethnos newspaper said. Epaminondas Korkoneas and his partner, who is charged as an accomplice, were sent to jail pending trial by a prosecutor on Wednesday. Cases in Greece often take months to reach court.

KARAMANLIS TO BRUSSELS

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who has announced financial support for hundreds of businesses damaged in the rioting, traveled to Brussels for an EU summit on Thursday.

Karamanlis and opposition leader George Papandreou appealed for an end to the violence, which hit at least 10 Greek cities and damaged hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) in property.

Greeks also protested in Paris, Berlin, London, Rome, The Hague, Moscow, New York, Italy and Cyprus. In Madrid and Barcelona, youths attacked a police station and a bank on Wednesday night following protests over the Greek teenager’s death, Spanish police said.

While the Greek government, which has a one-seat majority in parliament, appeared to have weathered the immediate storm, its hands-off response to the rioting will damage its already low popularity ratings, pollsters said. The opposition socialist party, which leads in the polls, has called for an election.

“The most likely scenario now is that Karamanlis will call elections in two or three months’ time,” Georges Prevelakis, professor of geopolitics at Sorbonne University in Paris, said.

On Wednesday, foreign and domestic flights were grounded, banks and schools were shut, and hospitals ran on emergency services as hundreds of thousands of Greeks walked off the job.

Unions say privatizations, tax rises and pension reform have worsened conditions, especially for the fifth of Greeks who live below the poverty line, just as the global downturn is hurting the 240 billion-euro ($315 billion) economy.

The Greek Commerce Confederation said damage to businesses in Athens alone was worth about 200 million euros, with 565 shops seriously damaged.

In a televised message, Karamanlis, who swept to power during the euphoria of the 2004 Athens Olympics, announced subsidies, loans and tax relief measures for those affected.

In four years of conservative rule, a series of scandals, devastating forest fires, and unsuccessful economic measures have erased the optimistic mood of 2004.

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