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Europe

Central Athens violence prompts election call

©

Video by Siobhán SILKE , Céline BRUNEAU

Latest update : 2008-12-09

Running battles between police and protesters broke out outside the Greek parliament building in central Greece as the crisis worsened. The opposition socialist party called for fresh elections in a bid to stop the violence.

The spark that set Greece on fire - read our Observers account of the rioting

 

Read what the web makes of the Greek violence

 

Reuters - Riot police fought running battles with hundreds of protesters outside Greece's parliament on Tuesday while the opposition socialist party called for elections to end four days of protests.

Rows of riot police with gas masks and shields squared off with protesters for over an hour outside parliament before firing teargas to disperse the crowd. Bands of young protesters, wearing handkerchiefs against the gas, regrouped to throw stones at police and chanted: "Let parliament burn!"

In the outskirts of Athens, more than 5,000 people dressed in black gathered at a funeral for the 15-year-old boy whose shooting by police on Saturday has triggered Greece's worst riots in decades. Many chanted: "Cops, Pigs, Murderers".

The killing touched a raw nerve among young Greeks, angry at years of political scandals and rising levels of poverty and unemployment, worsened by the global economic downturn.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose party has a one seat majority, held emergency talks with opposition leaders to urge them to unite against the riots. He appealed to unions to cancel a protest rally during a 24-hour strike scheduled for Wednesday.

Both requests were quickly rejected by leftist union leaders and politicians who say the government's reforms have worsened conditions for the one-fifth of Greeks below the poverty line.

"The government has lost people's trust," said the leader of the socialist opposition party, George Papandreou. "The only thing this government can offer is to resign and turn to the people for its verdict."

In the northern cities of Thessaloniki and Ioannina, protestors clashed with police and set fire to rubbish containers. Greek demonstrators occupied the country's consulate in Paris, following protests in London and Berlin on Monday.

Many of the demonstrators in central Athens belonged neither to the anarchist nor the student elements most in evidence over the last few days.

One man in a business suit running from gas outside parliament shouted: "They have to go!"

"I am here because I have a feeling that something is happening, something is changing in society," said Thodoros Adamopoulos, 53, a private businessman.

White coffin

Protests have swept more than 10 cities across the European Union member state of 11 million people, including the tourist islands of Crete and Corfu. Hundreds of buildings have been wrecked or burned and more than 50 people injured.
One policeman has been charged with murder over Alexandros Grigoropoulos's shooting. Police said the officer fired three warning shots after their car was attacked by 30 youths on Saturday but witnesses said he took aim.

At the funeral for Grigoropoulos, mourners applauded as his white coffin decked with flowers was carried through the crowd. Outside the cemetery, police fired teargas at demonstrators who replied with fire bombs.

Greek media criticised Karamanlis's failure to contain the rioters. "Flames Rage As The Government Looks On," the daily newspaper Kathimerini said.

Police have arrested some 200 people, some for looting, during the protests but have tried to avoid direct fighting which might worsen tensions, police officials say.

Greece has a tradition of violence at student rallies and fire bomb attacks by anarchist groups, which have heightened tensions with police. Many people on the streets compared the current protests to a 1973 student uprising which helped topple a military junta.

More than 130 shops have been destroyed in the capital, dashing retailers' hopes that Christmas would compensate for Greece's darkening economic outlook. Youths set fire to a large Christmas tree in central Athens on Monday night.

Date created : 2008-12-09

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