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Riots and Clashes Continue in Greece, Expressing Wider Discontent

Week of Greek rioting taps into wider discontent

The Associated Press Published: December 12, 2008

Athens, Greece:

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 658 ($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."

New clashes in Athens, PM says people safe

Reuters, Fri Dec 12, 2008 12:40pm EST

By Dina Kyriakidou and Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Students pelted police with firebombs and stones in Athens on Friday in new clashes that first broke out over the police killing of a teenager.

Students, angry at the shooting incident, low wages and unemployment, attacked police outside the parliament building on a seventh day of violence that has shaken the government. Riot police fired teargas in response.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis pledged to guarantee the safety of its people and citizens.

"Greece is a safe country," he told a news conference in Brussels

Riots since the December 6 shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos have destroyed hundreds of shops, banks and cars, rattled the conservative government and shaken investor confidence in the 240 billion euro economy ($315 billion) as the global crisis bites.

Even as Karamanlis spoke in Brussels, about 5,000 protesters marched through Athens carrying banners saying: "The state kills" and "The government is guilty of murder."

In bond markets, the spread between Greek debt and German benchmark bonds -- a measure of perceived risk -- reached its widest point this decade on Friday, at over 2 percentage points.

"We do not expect investors to forget this situation quickly," said David Keeble, head of fixed income research at Calyon Bank.

Greece's debt almost equals its economic output.

Karamanlis said Greece was weathering the credit crunch better than other EU members and sent a message to markets that, despite the crisis, the economy was solid.

"Greece is covering and will (continue) to cover its borrowing needs smoothly," he said.

The killing of Grigoropoulos ignited simmering anger over a series of scandals, unpopular reforms and misfired economic measures as the credit crunch reached Greece.


Police sources say they are running out of teargas after using more than 4,600 capsules in the last week and have urgently contacted Israel and Germany for more stocks.

"Everyone wants this government of murderers to fall. The government in four years has only carried out reforms against students," said Maria Tsoupri, 22. "We don't see a future. We have a future only through struggle." 

Karamanlis, whose New Democracy party has a one-seat majority and has seen its popularity ratings dive in recent months, expressed sorrow at the shooting but said the violence that followed was the work of extremists.

Media criticized the government's slow response to the crisis.

"The Bell Tolls For Karamanlis," Ta Nea newspaper said on its front page, while Ethnos said "Government Under Siege; Education Protests Escalate."

Heavy rain helped curtail demonstrations compared to previous days. The protests inspired small protests in some European cities, sowing fears of copy-cat riots elsewhere.

Police said 432 people, including many foreign immigrants, have been detained, with 176 of them charged with violence and looting.

Many Greeks are angry that the policeman charged with murdering the teenager has not expressed remorse. Epaminondas Korkoneas, 37, testified that he fired warning shots in self-defense which ricocheted.

He and his police partner, charged as an accomplice, are being held in jail pending trial, which could take months.

Greeks rushing to work on Friday were keen for their cities to return to normal after the protests, which the Greek Commerce Confederation said caused 200 million euros ($265.3 million) of damage to more than 500 shops in Athens alone.

Several schools and universities remained occupied by students and professors formed a human chain around the main university building to protect it from further damage.

"It will become calm now. But I want the government to clean up, to get the market and the economy moving," said Isidoros Aletas, 21.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn, Michele Kambas and Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Dina Kyriakidou; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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