Riots sweep Greece after police shoot boy

 

Thousands of protesters rampaged through Athens and the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki today, burning dozens of shops and vehicles in a second day of rioting after police shot dead a 15-year-old boy.

Greece's worst protests in years erupted in the capital late yesterday after the shooting of the teenager, identified by police as Alexandros Grigoropoulos, and quickly spread to Thessaloniki and the tourist islands of Crete and Corfu.

Despite appeals for calm from the conservative government, leftist demonstrators and anarchists held running battles with security forces today.

Authorities said some 34 people had been injured, including one woman with a serious head wound. Private TV stations said at least five more people were being treated in private hospitals.

"I've never experienced anything like this," said Hara Christopoulou, 27, resident of the volatile Exarchia district where the boy was shot. "I tried to leave my house but there's tear gas everywhere and the roads are full of youths in black."

In recent years, anger among Greek youths has been fanned by the growing gap between rich and poor. Violence at student rallies and fire bomb attacks by anarchist groups are common.

In Athens, tear gas choked the streets and protesters rained petrol bombs down on rows of riot police while helicopters hovered overhead. Demonstrators chanted "Killers in Uniform".

Glass, debris and charred cars were strewn across the streets and acrid smoke filled the air after protesters torched more than 30 shops and a dozen banks in the capital's busiest commercial districts ahead of the busy Christmas period.

As night fell, more than 1,000 students played a cat and mouse game with police, retreating to the university campus which security forces are forbidden to enter. At least 13 people have been detained by police so far, many for looting.

In Thessaloniki, a protest by more than 1,000 people descended into violence when marchers lobbed firebombs at police, set fire to a bank and smashed several stores.

Prime minister Costas Karamanlis, whose government has been rocked by scandal and an economic slowdown, pledged action in a public apology to the father of the dead boy.

"I know nothing can relieve your pain, but I assure you ... the state will act, as it ought to, so that yesterday's tragedy won't be repeated," he said.

Two police officers were arrested in connection with the shooting and prosecutors said in a statement one would be charged with wilful killing and the other with abetting him.

A police statement said one officer fired three shots after their car was attacked by a group of 30 youths in Exarchia. A police official said the officer described his fire as warning shots but witnesses told Greek TV he took aim at the boy.

It was the first time since 1985 that a minor had been killed in clashes with police. The 1985 killing sparked months of almost daily clashes between police and protesters.

Greece, where one in five lives below the poverty line, has seen a rising wave of anti-government strikes and youth protests in recent months as the global slowdown has started to bite.

"We must not feel weak and disgraced, but furious with the government's incapacity, apathy and irresponsibility," said opposition Socialist party leader George Papandreou.

Reuters