ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Protesters took to the streets of Athens for the seventh consecutive day Friday, vowing to maintain pressure on the government with both peaceful demonstrations and violent clashes that left one police officer engulfed in flames.
Youths pelted riot police with rocks and firebombs. One officer flailed, covered in blazing gasoline, as his colleagues rushed to extinguish him. He was ultimately unhurt.
Demonstrators in France and Germany put on shows of support for the Greeks protests, which are driven in part by the widening gap between rich and poor in a country where the minimum monthly wage is euro658 ($850), graduates have poor job prospects and the government is making painful reforms to the pension system.
“It is clear that this wave of discontent will not die down. This rage is spreading because the underlying causes remain,” said veteran left-wing politician Leonidas Kyrkos. “These protests are a vehicle with which people can claim their rights and shatter indifference and false promises.”
Beleaguered Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis ruled out early elections, however, saying from Brussels, Belgium that the country needs a steady hand to steer it through the global financial crisis.
“That is my concern and the concern and the priority of the government, and not scenarios about elections and successions,” he said.
“We must make a very clear distinction between the overwhelming majority of the Greek people who of course have every right to express their sorrow at the death of a young boy, and the minority of extremists who take refuge in acts of extreme violence.”
Dozens of people have been treated in hospitals during the unrest, sparked last Saturday by the death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos.
The level of violence has abated but tear gas and the smoke from burned cars still hang in the air in central Athens. Hundreds of businesses have been burned or smashed and looted in cities across Greece. Banks in particular have been targeted, with terrified employees fleeing as protesters smashed recently replaced windows of branches along central Syntagma Square.
“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.”
In Paris, about 300 demonstrators gathered outside the Greek Embassy. Some scuffled with police and spilled over onto the Champs-Elysees, partly blocking Paris’ most famous avenue, some ripping out streetlights from the center of the road as they moved along.
“Police, pigs, everywhere!” they shouted, bemused bystanders in red Santa hats watching as police vans with and riot officers in helmets and shields marched down the avenue in their wake.
Outside the embassy, demonstrators shouted “Murderous Greek state!” and “A police officer, a bullet, that is social justice!”
Hundreds of protesters also marched through Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood, behind a van broadcasting messages of solidarity with the Greek protesters.
Earlier in the week, protesters in Spain, Denmark and Italy smashed shop windows, pelted police with bottles and attacked banks, while in France, cars were set ablaze outside the Greek consulate in Bordeaux, where protesters scrawled graffiti warning about a looming “insurrection.”
Associated Press writers across Europe contributed.