Greek civil unrest continues over police shooting of boy (Roundup)

December 8th, 2008 - 12:22 am ICT by IANS  

Athens, Dec 7 (DPA) Civil unrest broke out across Greece Sunday as hundreds of demonstrators clashed with riot police in Athens and the northern port city of Thessaloniki in the second day of protests following the death of a teenaged boy shot by police Saturday.In Thessaloniki, a demonstration by 2,000 protestors quickly turned violent as protestors hurled fire bombs at City Hall, banks, car dealerships, supermarkets, shops and at riot police.

In Athens, hooded youths burned down an apartment building as more than 3,000 protestors marched to the capitals police headquarters.

Firebombs also damaged the office building belonging to the environment ministry. The police retaliated by firing tear gas into the crowds.

Earlier, Greece’s conservative government appealed for calm after a night of some of the worst riots in years.

The violence spread from Athens to the northern port city of Thessaloniki, the western port city of Patras, the central cities of Ioannina and Volos and also to the southern Mediterranean island of Crete.

The rioting and protests began in Athens late Saturday, shortly after the shooting in the central district of Exarchia.

The exact circumstances surrounding the shooting of a teenage boy - whose age was variously reported as 15 or 16 by various media - by police are still unclear. The police said the initial incident started when groups of youths began attacking a police car with stones and firebombs.

A warning shot fired by a police officer seriously wounded a teenager in the stomach. The teenager died upon arrival at the hospital.

Witnesses, however, claim that there was only a verbal exchange between the youths and police, and that the policeman shot directly into the group.

“It was cold-blooded murder,” an eyewitness told a radio broadcaster.

The death immediately triggered riots throughout the country overnight, with youths burning banks, cars and shops. Hundreds of riots also destroyed dozens of shops, banks and cars. Ten people were arrested, five of them for stealing goods from damaged shops.

Downtown Athens had turned into a battlefield, as thick black smoke and broken glass could be seen from burning cars and garbage bins.

More than 25 police officers were reported injured in the rioting. One was hospitalised with serious injuries.

The police used tear gas to disperse the crowd of youths. Restaurants and bars, normally full of clients on a Saturday night, shut their doors early.

Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos offered his resignation to the prime minister. The offer was rejected.

Pavlopoulos said, “An investigation to clarify the situation has already began and all those involved will be punished so that such a thing does not happen again.”

The shooting has been described by the media as one of the worst incidents of police violence in over a decade and the first time since 1985 that police have killed a minor in Greece.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlishas faced a series of protests from workers’ groups and students over the past few months.

Reports said the prime minister, whose government rules with a slim majority, may be forced to call early elections.

Two police officers have been arrested in the incident and have been charged with manslaughter. Just as questioning began, dozens of people staged a march outside the police headquarters where the officers were taken.

“The government believes that it can rule with an iron fist, but no, more. People have had enough,” said 45-year-old architect Nikos Polynikas.

Public unrest with the conservative government’s austerity measures has grown and unions have called for a 24-hour strike Wednesday over privatisations and pension reforms and the cost of living. One-fifth of Greeks live below the poverty line.

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