Riots and looting across Athens as protests intensify

ATHENS (AFP) — Riots and looting erupted across Athens on Thursday as the Greek government confronted a sixth day of violent protests over the police killing of a schoolboy.

Demonstrators clashed with security forces outside the country’s biggest prison and a university in central Athens while police said groups of youths were reported to be looting stores in various districts. Others blocked main roads.

Formal voluntary homicide charges against the police officer accused of shooting 15-year-old Andreas Grigoropoulos failed to stem the public anger. Underfire prime minister Costas Karamanlis still left for a European Union summit in Brussels, while Greek embassies in other countries have also become a target for protests.

A clash at Koyrdallos prison in a western Athens suburb blew up after protesters started throwing rocks and other missiles at police who fired tear gas to force the protesters back, a prison guard said.

The demonstrators were staging a sit-down protest in front of the prison.

Police said there was a second riot at the agriculture university in Athens, which has been occupied by students, and that rampaging youths were looting stores in the Nea Smyrni and Galatsi districts of the capital.

School students also blocked several main roads in Athens.

More than 100 schools and some 15 university campuses remain occupied by youth demonstrators in Athens and the second city of Thessaloniki, with student groups having announced a major rally for Friday.

The six days of unrest in cities across Greece since Grigoropoulos was fatally shot in Athens have left dozens of injured and scores of banks, stores and public buildings destroyed or badly damaged by fire, or just looted.

Police have confronted riots every night since the death.

An Athens police officer was charged Wednesday with voluntary homicide — which under Greek law does not necessarily involve premeditation. The officer, whose partner has been charged with complicity, has claimed self defence with ballistics analysis indicating a ricochet bullet hit the schoolboy, lawyers said.

Demonstrators and left wing unions have sought to focus the public anger against the right wing government, whose popularity has plummeted in recent months because of the economic crisis and a series of political scandals.

A general strike on Wednesday brought much of the country to a standstill and badly disrupted flights in and out of Greece.

The socialist opposition has also stepped up calls for Karamanlis to quit and call new elections, ignoring his appeals for national unity against the worst unrest Greece has seen since the end of a military dictatorship in 1974.

Karamanlis, who went to Brussels for a key EU summit, now faces intense domestic political pressure, with just a single seat majority in the Greek parliament.

Police officer Epaminondas Korkoneas, 37, was charged Wednesday night with voluntary homicide and “illegal use” of his service weapon. He was ordered to remain in custody by an Athens magistrate.

His partner, Vassilios Saraliotis, 31, was charged with being an accomplice and will also remain in custody. The pair have been held since Sunday.

Korkoneas is accused of killing Grigoropoulos on Saturday during a clash with around 30 youths in the Exarchia district of Athens. His lawyer said Korkoneas claims self defence saying the group threw firebombs and other objects while shouting that they “were going to kill them.”

The crisis has crossed borders, with Turkish left-wing protestors daubing red paint over the Greek consulate in Istanbul, and Greek embassies in Moscow and Rome also targets for firebombers.

In Spain, 11 demonstrators were arrested and several police officers injured during clashes in Madrid and Barcelona, while 32 people were arrested in Copenhagen when their protest in support of Greek rioters turned violent, police said.

The Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry said 435 businesses had been hit, with 37 completely gutted.

In a televised address, Karamanlis pledged up to 10,000 euros (13,100 dollars) to stricken businesses , plus a tax freeze and government-guaranteed loans to rebuild burnt property.

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