|Dec 12 02:21 PM US/Eastern
By ELENA BECATOROS and DEREK GATOPOULOS
Associated Press Writers
|ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Greek youths hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails and heavily armed Athens police responded with stun grenades and tear gas Friday, as deep discontent with the government and the global economic meltdown erupted on the country’s seventh straight day of riots.Greece’s prime minister rejected calls to resign and hold early elections, insisting Friday that a steady hand was needed in times of financial crisis.
“There should be no confusion between the emotions felt by young students over the tragic death of a colleague … and this destructive mania,” Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said Friday.
Terrified workers in banks along Athens’ central Syntagma Square watched in fear as protesters shattered windows just replaced days ago after being damaged in the worst riots Greece has experienced in decades.
Protesters also smashed their way into the main branch of the National Bank of Greece, sending employees fleeing in panic. One protester walked up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Parliament and threw a black-and-red anarchist flag at it. Petrol bombs left one policeman covered in flames.
Protesters briefly occupied a private Athens radio station and read a statement on the air and took over a municipal building in the northwestern city of Ioannina.
The riots broke out Saturday within hours of the police shooting death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, and have since expanded to encompass general anger over economic hardship. Hundreds of stores and dozens of cars have been destroyed or damaged in cities across the country.
“What started as an outburst of rage over Alexandros’ killing is now becoming a more organized form of protest,” said Petros Constantinou of the Socialist Workers Party.
The violence has hammered Karamanlis’ conservative government, which already faced vociferous opposition to economic and social reforms. Karamanlis, whose party has only a single seat majority in parliament, rejected calls for him to resign, saying Friday that Greece needed to focus instead on the global financial crisis.
“That is my concern and the concern and the priority of the government, and not scenarios about elections and successions,” Karamanlis said in Brussels, Belgium, where he was attending an European Union leaders meeting on climate change.
A spokesman for the opposition Socialists said the government was “refusing to face reality.”
Protesters who are occupying high schools and universities are demanding a reversal of public spending cuts, the resignation of the country’s interior minister and the release of arrested riot suspects.
About 200 people have been arrested during the riots and 70 injured.
As unrest spilled over into other European cities, concerns have been raised that the clashes could be a trigger for opponents of globalization, disaffected youth and others outraged by the continent’s economic turmoil and soaring unemployment.
“Financial targets are being attacked—like banks—to prove a point of economic oppression … some people hardly have enough eat,” said Constantinos Sakkas, a 23-year-old protest organizer.
“We’re against the attacks on small stores,” he added. “The purpose of all this is for our demands to be heard. This just isn’t for us. It’s for everyone.”
Protesters in Spain, Denmark and Italy this week have smashed shop windows, pelted police with bottles and attacked banks, while in France, cars were set ablaze outside the Greek consulate in Bordeaux.
Turkish leftists staged a peaceful protest Friday outside the Greek consulate in Istanbul, carrying a banner reading: “We’re saluting the resistance of the Greek people.”
“End the police terrorism!” the group chanted before dispersing.
The two police officers involved in the shooting have been jailed pending trial, one for murder and the other as an accomplice. They say they were attacked by a group of youths and that one officer had fired warning shots, but witnesses have disputed the claim.
Their defense lawyer, Alexis Cougias, said ballistics testing of the bullet that killed Grigoropoulos showed it had ricocheted. The ballistics report has not been released.
Greek police will review their firearms policy, Panayiotis Chinofotis, the deputy minister for Public Order,assured parliament on Friday.
Protestors are planning daily marches in the capital next week.