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Two Police Officers Charged as Riots Rage in Greece

BY Admin  December 8, 2008 at 3:15 PM EST

Rioters in Athens; Photo by Flickr user Tom.Tziros

Major protests in Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, had riot police armed with tear gas clashing with thousands of demonstrators into Monday.

Two police officers have been charged in the death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, one with murder and another with being an accomplice, according to Reuters and the Associated Press.

Grigoropoulos was shot and killed Saturday night when about 30 youths became embroiled in a fight with police in the volatile Athens district of Exarchia. Police accounts say Grigoropoulos was about to throw a fuel-filled device at them, CNN reported. Other witnesses say the firing was unwarranted.

The circumstances surrounding the teenager’s death Saturday are unclear, but the two officers involved have been arrested. A coroner’s report shows the boy was shot in the chest. Schools were to shut on Tuesday in mourning, while staff at universities declared a three-day strike.

Mobs of young activists, outraged at Grigoropoulos’s death, stormed the Interior Ministry and Parliament in Athens and organized larger protests across the country, building mobility through the Internet and via text messages, the New York Times reported. Protesters threw fire bombs and stones at riot police. Major protests Monday were organized across Athens, Thessaloniki, Larissa and the island of Corfu.

The Greek embassies in Berlin and London were also attacked. In Berlin, about 15 protesters submitted a letter of protest about the young man’s death and raised a banner saying Grigoropoulos was “murdered by the state.”

In Athens alone, about 130 businesses were damaged in the weekend riots, many on the popular Ermou pedestrian shopping street and extending to the Monastiraki district. Five stores, including a multi-story sports clothing store and a Ford car dealership, were gutted by fire. Many more were damaged on Monday.

“This was a show of strength by mindless people. … At some point someone has to tell us who will pay for all this damage,” Athens Traders Association head Panayis Karellas said, according to the AP.

The Police Officers’ Association has apologized to the boy’s family, and President Karolos Papoulias sent a telegram to his parents expressing his condolences.

Unrest in the country is being seen as symptomatic of a growing and volatile distrust of government among Greek youth, CNN reported.

Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis was reelected last year and promised to prioritize social and economic reform, but the government’s popularity has since fallen “amid allegations of cronyism and corruption,” according to CNN.

At least six Athens protesters were arrested Sunday under the accusation of looting a vandalized department store. The New York Times reported that “dozens of officers had been injured while trying to seal off streets around Athens Polytechnic University” in Exarchia.

“The protesters, hiding behind blazing trash bins and the university’s gates, continued to pelt the police with stones and fire bombs,” the Times reported. “It remained unclear whether the authorities would try to get permission to storm the state university.”

Karamanlis Monday morning condemned the riots and accused protesters of exploiting “this tragedy for their own purposes,” in a televised newscast.

“All the dangerous and unacceptable events that occurred because of the emotions that followed the tragic incident cannot and will not be tolerated,” Karamanlis said.

In the past, youth-led riots against in Greece have disrupted government and escalated to violence. In 1985, a teenager was killed in a police shooting during a demonstration, which sparks protests that took officials weeks to quell. In 1999, Athens businesses were destroyed in rioting sparked by a visit by then-President Bill Clinton.