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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Police Shooting in Athens Greece Sparks Country Wide Riots

ATHENS — Mobs of militant youth angered by the fatal shooting of a teenager took to a weekend of rampage, battling police in central Athens and destroying scores of shops, cars and businesses across the country. The riots, triggered late Saturday when a small group of youths attacked a police car in central Athens, sparked a spree of violence that ripped through the country, leaving many cities shattered like war zones.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said a senior police official who requested anonymity because of his involvement in the investigation. “The tension is so thick you can almost cut it with a knife.” The circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting remained unclear. Still, a police statement issued in the early hours of Sunday said the shooting took place while two officers were targeted by some 30 youths — many of them hurling stones — while patrolling the central district of Exarchia, an unruly haven of leftist extremists.

Both officers left their car to confront the rioters, “firing three shots that resulted in the death of the minor,” according to the statement. Private Greek media and a website popular among leftist youths, www.indymedia.org, said the teenager had been shot in the chest and died while being transferred to a local hospital. Both officers — members of Greece’s elite police corps — have been suspended and senior officials vowed “exemplary punishment” for anyone found responsible. “It is inconceivable for there not to be punishment when a person, let alone a minor, loses their life,” said Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos. “The loss of life,” he told an urgent news conference on Sunday, “is something that is inconceivable in a democracy.”

The deadly shooting sparked widespread riots, with hundreds of militant youth storming the streets of Athens within hours of the incident, hurling fire bombs, rocks and slabs of concrete at police who retaliated with tear gas. Private television networks broke into scheduled programming, broadcasting violent shows of street fights, the worse in recent years. Black-clad youth were seen smashing storefronts, targeting bank branches, torching dozens of refuse containers and cars lined along the meandering streets of Athens’ high-street commercial district.

Similar protests rattled the country’s second largest metropolis, Thessaloniki and a string of other Greek cities, including Chania on the island of Crete. No casualties were reported, but the overnight riots left Athens and other major cities strewn with shattered glass, burnt appliances and a stench of acrid smoke of tear gas. At least six people were arrested for looting goods from the debris of destroyed department stores and boutiques.

Authorities in Athens braced for heated protests at a scheduled demonstration later Sunday. Mr. Pavlopoulos, who tendered a resignation early Sunday that was not accepted by the Greek Prime Minister, called for restraint during those rallies. “People have the right to protest and will do so, but while the pain and grief caused by the minor’s death is understandable, no outrage... can lead to the violence and destruction of private property that was witnessed [Sunday].”


ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece's interior minister called for restraint during demonstrations planned Sunday to protest the killing of a teenager by police, after extensive overnight rioting in several Greek cities. The circumstances surrounding the death of the 16-year-old boy were unclear. Police issued a statement saying that the two officers involved claimed their patrol car came under attack by a group of youths in the downtown Exarchia district of Athens.

The statement said the two officers left their car to confront the youths. "The two maintain that they were attacked again and responded, with one firing a stun grenade and the other, by shooting three times, resulting in the fatal wounding of the minor." The boy's death sparked widespread riots in Athens, the northern city of Thessaloniki and other Greek cities. Youths hurled firebombs, rocks and other projectiles at police, who responded with tear gas. Rioters set fires and smashed storefronts and bank branches. The fire department said an initial assessment showed more than 20 stores, several bank branches and many cars were burned in the capital.

Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos submitted his resignation in the early hours of Sunday, but it was not accepted by the prime minister. The two officers involved have been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, as has the police chief in the Exarchia precinct. Pavlopoulos promised there would be a thorough investigation into the teenager's death and pledged "exemplary punishment" for anyone found responsible.

"It is inconceivable for there not to be punishment when a person loses their life, particularly when it is a child," Pavlopoulos said during an emergency news conference Sunday morning. "The taking of life is something that is not excusable in a democracy." A demonstration was planned for later Sunday in central Athens, and another was being planned for Monday.

Authorities were bracing for potential trouble, and the fire department said it was on alert across Athens. Pavlopoulos said that while people have the right to demonstrate, such protests should not turn against business owners and the public. While authorities understood the pain the 16-year-old's death had caused, the minister said, "no outrage, no matter how ideologically established it is, can lead to such incidents as we witnessed last night."

Pavlopoulos said the police were obliged to ensure civil order, but stressed they would do so in a defensive role. "It is everyone's right to demonstrate and to advocate for their rights," he said. "But I stress, not by destroying the property of others, not turning against people who are not to blame for anything." The overnight riots left parts of central Athens littered with the debris of smashed and burned — but not looted — businesses, while the acrid smoke of tear gas still hung in the early morning air.

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