Petros Giannakouris/AP
Riot police avoid fire bombs and stones thrown by protesters outside the Athens Polytechnic
University during clashes on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008.

Greek Riots Latest Clash in Long-Standing Feud Between Youth, Police

December 08, 2008 09:44 AM
by Emily Coakley
Rioting that started over the weekend in Athens over a police shooting is the latest eruption of violence against Greek police by young members of leftist groups.

Teen’s Shooting Death Sparks Two Days of Violence

More than 30 people have been injured, and property is damaged around Greece as people riot to protest the shooting death of a teen at the hands of police over the weekend, the Christian Science Monitor reports.

The riots started early on Saturday. Accounts of the dispute vary, but two policemen faced a crowd of about 30 youths who were shouting insults. During the confrontation, the boy, who has been described as 15 or 16, was shot in the chest and died, the Athens News Agency said.

According to the Monitor, the two policemen involved in the shooting have been 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.

Violence continued on Sunday as Karamanlis asked for calm, with clashes being reported in the city of Thessaloniki and the islands Corfu and Crete, the BBC said.

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 weekend’s riots were the seventh such incident since the 1973 uprising, the BBC reported.

Reactions: Eyewitness reports

On 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 what she saw: “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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