Greek rioters go on holiday season spree in Athens
ATHENS: Riot police clashed with rock-throwing demonstrators Thursday in central Athens, sending Christmas shoppers and customers in cafés running for cover. Frightened parents scooped up their children from a Christmas carousel in the city's main square and fled.
Some protesters broke away from a peaceful rally and threw rocks and firebombs at police and buildings near Parliament, overturned a car and set fire to trash cans. They also splashed the police with red paint. The police responded with tear gas and flash grenades.
Firefighters and the police also rushed to stop protesters from burning down the city's main Christmas tree, which was replaced this week after the first was torched in riots. Families abandoned the carousel in central Syntagma Square after happily going on rides all morning.
The clashes Thursday were the latest outbreak of violence after the fatal shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos on Dec. 6. Protests over the boy's death at police hands and the increasing economic hardship in Greece have led to the worst rioting the country has seen in decades.
Hundreds of businesses have been smashed, burned or looted and gangs of youths fought running battles with riot police firing tear gas every night for a week. The riots have been fed by dissatisfaction with Greece's increasingly unpopular conservative government.
More than 200 youths took part in running battles with the police Thursday in Athens. They also set fire to a private security van and set up a burning barricade after smashing a café storefront, and dragging out and setting fire to its furniture. Downtown streets were littered with smashed paving stones and marble blocks.
Shop owners who saw their businesses smashed and looted during the riots last week now say they are having trouble making ends meet because many customers are staying away from the city center.
"Who's going to pay all these bills? I'm taking in €200 a day," asked Spyros Papaspyrou, the owner of a shoe shop in central Athens. "Do they want me to stand outside my shop with a shotgun? I can't understand why they can't arrest 80 people in the center of Athens."
The Greek prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, under fire for his hands off reaction to the riots, announced measures to save tourism, one of the main reasons for a slowing economy.
"We are determined to do everything possible so that all we have achieved through sacrifices is not wasted," he said, announcing tax breaks and incentives for the tourism sector.
Before the violence broke out, about 7,000 students and other protesters marched in a rally, chanting, "We are the law, we'll stay on the streets."
As they passed, fearful shop owners shuttered their store fronts. Some demonstrators painted white crime-scene-style body outlines on the streets.
Earlier Thursday, some 1,000 demonstrators joined a peaceful march, backed by the Communist Party, through the city. About 300 people also marched in Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki.
While sporadic rallies have been held in Europe in support of the Greek protesters, none were reported Thursday.
Major labor union staged work stoppages Thursday to protest the teenager's shooting and the conservative government's economic policies.
Air traffic controllers walked off the job for three hours. State hospitals were operating with skeleton staff in a 24-hour strike.
The government appealed for calm after another teenager was shot in the hand late Wednesday near his school. It was unclear who shot him.
A police spokesman, Panayiotis Stathis, said no officers were in the area at the time of the attack, and Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos promised a thorough investigation. The boy underwent surgery Thursday.
The policeman who shot Grigoropoulos has been charged with murder and jailed pending trial, while his partner has been charged as an accomplice. The officer said he fired a warning shot in self-defense against a group of youths. A ballistic report said Thursday that the bullet ricocheted before killing the teenager but further investigation was needed to decide whether the policeman aimed or fired in the air.