Fragile calm returns to Greece following riots

ATHENS (AFP) — A fragile calm returned to Greece Monday after the country was rocked by riots at the weekend following a police shooting that left a 15-year-old boy dead.

Small groups of youths continued to occupy campuses in central Athens early Monday, sporadically throwing stones and molotov cocktails at riot police to protest against the shooting Saturday of Andreas Grigoropoulos.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters battled police in central Athens, smashing the windows of shops and businesses with petrol bombs and forcing police to use tear gas to disperse rioters.

By late evening, large groups of students were occupying campuses in the centre of the capital and in the northern city of Salonika, with petrol bombs being hurled at Salonika police.

The campuses in Salonika, Greece's second city, were still occupied by youths on Monday. Several universities in Athens and Salonika would be closed for two days, their authorities announced.

The Greek Communist Party (KKE), along with other far-left groups, said new demonstrations would be held Monday afternoon in the centre of Athens.

Around 200 demonstrators in south-western Patras set fire to garbage cans and set up barricades in the city centre Sunday, with a police officer in Patras hospitalised after being beaten up by a group of youths.

In north-western Ioannina, around 50 youths also hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at banks and shops before being chased by riot police.

Thirteen police and six other persons were injured while some 20 demonstrators were arrested.

The two officers involved in Grigoropoulos' shooting were arrested by their bosses Sunday, with the city's Exarchia district police chief suspended.

Along Alexandras Avenue, at least three banks -- the National Bank of Greece, the Emporiki Bank and the Bank of Piraeus -- as well as supermarkets and dozens of shops were set on fire during the clashes.

Nearly 5,000 people rallied outside the National Museum near where the teenage victim died late Saturday, with another 2,000 assembling in Salonika.

Grigoropoulos was killed by shots fired from a police gun during clashes between police and youths in Exarchia. He was among a group of youths who threw stones at a police car.

One of the two officers in the vehicle is accused of having climbed out of the car and fired three bullets at the teenager, who was fatally wounded in the chest. Grigoropoulos was taken to a nearby hospital where doctors could only confirm his death.

Epaminondas Korkoneas, 37, who allegedly fired the shots that killed Grigoropoulos, was taken into custody along with partner Vassilis Saraliotis, 31, who was in the police car when the fatal shooting happened.

The demonstrations began on the streets of Athens late Saturday with protesters denouncing the "arbitrary" police action, shouting slogans against the right-wing government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

Karamanlis on Sunday expressed his sympathy in a letter to the parents of the dead teenager.

"In these difficult moments please accept my condolences for the unfair loss of your son," Karamanlis wrote.

"Like all Greeks I am deeply saddened," he said. "I know that nothing can relieve your pain."

Karamanlis also said that those responsible would be brought to justice and that "the state will see to it that such a tragedy does not happen again."

Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos and the police also expressed their "deep sorrow" for what they called an "isolated" incident and have ordered an investigation.

The facades of 17 banks in Athens and five in Salonika were damaged, while some businesses were also attacked. Demonstrators also threw petrol bombs at a police station in Patras.

On the island of Crete, three banks in the main city of Iraklion were damaged while Molotov cocktails were tossed at city hall in the town of Chania.

In 1985, 15-year-old Michalis Kaltezas was shot by a police officer, triggering violent clashes between far-left youths and the police in Exarchia, known as bohemian district.

Exarchia was also the scene of major student protests in 1973, which led to the fall of the country's seven-year dictatorship in 1974.