Rioting spreads in Greek cities
Youth violence follows slaying of teen by police
ATHENS - Hooded youths angered by the fatal police shooting of a teenager rampaged through Greece's two largest cities yesterday, in some of the worst rioting ever seen in a country where violent protests against the government have become increasingly common.
Two days of rioting began in Athens and the northern city of Thessaloniki within hours of the death of the 15-year-old. The teen was shot Saturday night in Exarchia, a downtown Athens district of bars, music clubs, and restaurants that is seen as the self-styled anarchist movement's home base.
Soon, gangs had smashed stores, torched cars, and erected burning barricades. Police said 24 police officers were injured in the dramatic eruption of the long-tolerated movement.
Late yesterday, as clouds of tear gas hung in the air, onlookers snapped photos with their cellphones, but the street fighting showed few signs of abating.
Groups of youths, some masked and others concealing their faces behind motorcycle helmets, used trash cans and overturned cars to erect burning barricades in the streets around the Athens Polytechnic - which like all universities is protected by law from police intrusion.
The violence was the most severe since rioting in 1999 during a visit to Greece by President Bill Clinton. The last shooting of a teenager by police - during a demonstration in 1985 - sparked weeks of rioting.
The circumstances of Saturday's shooting were unclear, and Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos has promised to investigate and punish anyone found responsible.
"It is inconceivable for there not to be punishment when a person loses their life, particularly when it is a child," he said. "The taking of life is something that is not excusable in a democracy."
Police said the two officers involved claimed they were attacked by a group of youths, and that they responded with three gunshots and a stun grenade.
The two officers have been suspended and charged - one with premeditated manslaughter and the illegal use of a weapon, and the other as an accomplice. They are to appear in court Wednesday. The Exarchia precinct police chief also has been suspended.
A blurry video made by a bystander that purportedly shows the shooting has been broadcast on local television and posted on the Internet. Two sounds that could be gunshots can be heard, but the image is too distant to show the events clearly.
Pavlopoulos and Deputy Interior Minister Panagiotis Chinofotis submitted their resignations after Saturday's rioting, but they were not accepted by the prime minister.
The violence died down yesterday morning, but resumed when afternoon demonstrations in Athens and Thessaloniki to protest the boy's death degenerated into battles between Molotov cocktail-throwing youths and riot police firing tear gas.
In Thessaloniki, protesters attacked City Hall, two police precincts, several shops, a bank, and television vehicles.
Dozens of businesses in central Athens went up in flames or were vandalized. Streets were littered with paving stones and rocks thrown at police, as well as shattered glass from storefronts and banks.
"I understand the anger [for the teenager's death] and the right to demonstrate it," Pavlopoulos said last night. "What is inconceivable is the raw violence that undermines social peace and turns against the property of innocent people."
Several people sought treatment for breathing problems, but no serious injuries were reported.
Greece has seen frequent and sometimes violent demonstrations in recent months against the unpopular conservative government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his economic platform. Karamanlis has also seen his popularity plummet because of a land scandal that has put the opposition Socialists consistently ahead in opinion polls.
Violence often breaks out during demonstrations in Greece between riot police and anarchists, who also attack banks, high-end shops, diplomatic vehicles and foreign car dealerships in late-night fire-bombings that rarely cause injuries.
The anarchist movement partly has its roots in the resistance to the military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974.
The youths, who often march in demonstrations under the red and black anarchist banner, espouse anticapitalist and antiestablishment principles, and have long-running animosity toward the police as well as the media.