Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Backdropped by the ancient Parthenon, protesters can be seen after they placed giant banners
off the
Acropolis hill, in Athens, Wednesday Dec. 17,
2008. (AP)

Greek Rioters Call for Pan-European Protests

December 18, 2008 10:53 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
As the Greek protests continue, demonstrators are calling for supporters across Europe to join in their opposition movement, which was sparked by a police shooting.

Protesters Ask for European Solidarity

Wednesday marked the 12th day of discord in Greece, following the lethal shooting of a teenager by police. Protesters placed banners at the Acropolis and called for pan-European demonstrations. One banner read, “Thursday, 18/12 demonstrations in all Europe.”

A protester who chose to remain anonymous commented on the decision to use the Acropolis as a backrop: “We chose this monument to democracy, this global monument, to proclaim our resistance to state violence and demand rights in education and work.”

The unrest has resulted in 70 injuries thus far, and about 400 people have been detained by police, according to the BBC. Police laid low during the first days of rioting, but as protests and violence continued, riot squads began exerting more force.

On Thursday, air traffic controllers held a three-hour strike for higher wages, joining the protests of civil service trade unions and students in Greece. As a result, state-run Olympic Airlines canceled 28 flights and rescheduled 14 others.

Background: Tensions between police and groups

The Financial Times on Sunday, Dec. 14, reported that protests and clashes were going to continue. 

“Protesters threw Molotov cocktails and other missiles at police guarding parliament,” reported Agence France-Presse, which earlier in the week called the riots “the worst civil unrest to hit Greece in decades.”
The protests briefly spread to Berlin last week, with 15 people occupying the Greek consulate for several hours, according to the Associated Press. It’s not clear who the youths in Berlin were, but they handed out pamphlets and hung a banner on a balcony that said, “Killed by the State.” They left peacefully, and German police did not get involved because the consulate is not in their jurisdiction.

The riots in Greece started early Dec. 6, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Accounts of the dispute vary, but two policemen faced a crowd of about 30 youths who were shouting insults. During the confrontation, the boy was shot in the chest and died, the Athens News Agency said.

According to the Monitor, the two policemen involved in the shooting were arrested. ANA reported that Greece’s interior minister and deputy tried to resign in the wake of the riots, but Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis refused to accept the resignations.

Those responsible for the clashes have been variously described as anarchists, youths, or leftist groups.

It’s common for police and anarchist groups to clash in the neighborhood where the boy was killed. Police also aren’t terribly popular in Greece.

The Monitor said, “Many Greeks cite the events of November 17, 1973—a day that is still commemorated, when the army stormed the Athens Polytechnic University and killed a number of striking students—as a reason why the police must be restricted.”

Police, by law, are no longer allowed on the Athens Polytechnic campus.

Brady Kiesling, who is working on a book about the terrorist group named November 17, told the Monitor there is an unspoken understanding between police and the groups: “The police stay out of certain areas, unless there’s a major emergency, and the anarchists don’t trash things badly unless there’s a good reason.”

That all changes if there’s a death, he added. “Once someone gets killed, the doctrine is massive retaliation.”

The riots are the seventh such incident since the 1973 uprising, the BBC reported.

Reactions: Eyewitness reports

In a Dec. 7 entry in the Greek blog Living, Working, Musing & Misadventures, the author, a California native named Kat who has lived in Greece for more than a decade, described the unrest earlier in the week: “Buildings are on fire, and tear gas makes it difficult to be in the street.”

Other Americans living in Athens also addressed the riots. Paul and Catherine Wheatley are on a mission to encourage Christianity among college students in Greece. On their blog The Wheatleys, they said the violence wasn’t widespread.

“To reassure you of our safety, we can tell you that we were in downtown this afternoon taking Christmas pictures to send to you, and we had no idea any of this had happened until we got home and checked the news,” their blog said.

Their bus service was disrupted, and their normal bus stop was burnt down, though, they said.

On a blog “mayfly_78” the author, a half-Greek, half-British woman who lives in Athens, asked rhetorically whether the riots would change anything.

“No. Unfortunately it never does. Obviously the riots are part anger over the killing of the teenager, part frustration and anger against the police and the state in general. The state has a lot to answer for, but it never does. The riots will stop and everything will go back to normal, because the people in power never listen,” she said.

Kat wondered whether the police or protesters really thought about what they were doing.

“It is a senseless tragedy and my condolences go out to the boy’s family,” she wrote. “But more violence solves nothing and will not bring him back.”

Historical Context: Nov. 17 uprising

Greece was ruled by a military junta from 1967 until 1973. One event that was widely credited with helping bring the regime down was an uprising at Athens Polytechnic University. The event started with a sit-in on Nov. 14, says the site Greece Index, and ended on Nov. 17 when tanks crashed through the university’s gates. More than 20 students were killed.

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