UPDATE 1-Greek PM vows to fight corruption after 11-day protest

Tue Dec 16, 2008 10:26am EST
 
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(Adds state TV occupation, fresh violence, socialist response)

By Dina Kyriakidou and Daniel Flynn

ATHENS, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis pledged on Tuesday to tackle corruption after 11 days of violence triggered by the police killing of a teenager and fuelled by public anger at scandals and a slowing economy.

About 100 youths attacked a police station in Athens, setting fire to a bus and four cars belonging to officers. Students briefly occupied state TV, interrupting the news, and violence flared in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Also, for a second day farmers protesting at low prices cut off the main highway to northern Greece for several hours.

Karamanlis said helping Greeks -- a fifth of whom live in poverty -- was a priority but his options were restricted by the country's onerous debt, made worse by the riots that quickly spread across Greece and to some other European countries.

Greece's worst violence in decades was sparked by the Dec. 6 shooting of a 15-year-old but fed off anger at high youth unemployment and unpopular economic measures as the global crisis buffets its 240-billion-euro ($327.9 billion) economy.

"Long unresolved problems disappoint young people: the lack of meritocracy, corruption in everyday life, a sense of social injustice," Karamanlis told his parliamentary team. "The fight against them is hard and constant and we are committed to it."

Karamanlis, under fire for his hands-off reaction to the riots, said he underestimated the public backlash and the scale of a monastery land scandal besetting his government for months.

A parliamentary enquiry failed on Monday to seek any prosecutions for the deal, where a Mount Athos monastery got valuable state property in exchange for cheap rural land, costing the state millions of euros.

With more protests planned as the budget goes to parliament this week, Karamanlis said income-tax cuts will go ahead. But he warned against high expectations, saying Greece will spend 12 billion euros, about 5 percent of GDP, just to service its debt.

"Our top priority is to support those hurt the most ... (but) this debt is a huge burden that reduces the government's flexibility at a critical time," he said.

RESHUFFLE POSSIBLE

The opposition socialists, however, said Karamanlis and his party did not understand the severity of the economic situation.

"It is obvious they don't understand they've lost the trust of the people and, in these cases, the solution is always given by the people," said PASOK spokesman George Papaconstantinou.  Continued...

 

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