Thanassis Stavrakis/AP
Police officers take part in a rally outside the Red Cross Hospital in Athens, Tuesday, Jan. 6,

Cabinet Ministers Moved, Fired as Greek Government Copes With Unrest

January 07, 2009 04:16 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Greece's prime minister has rearranged part of his Cabinet in an attempt to appease critics, while protests against the government continue.

Critics Say Government Shake Up is Not Enough

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose government holds a majority by a single seat in Greece's parliament, changed the heads of nine ministries, the Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday. 

The finance, transportation, culture, development, and education ministries were among the positions affected, the paper said. Karamanlis even fired his own cousin, who was the culture minister. 

"But the prime minister chose to retain his interior minister, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, despite intense criticism of his handling of the crisis," the Telegraph reported. 

A spokesman for the opposing Socialist party, said the ministry changes do nothing to solve the country's problems.

A 21-year-old officer who was shot Monday is still in critical condition, the Telegraph said.

Late last month, shots fired at a police van hit the engine and a tire, but did not hurt any of the 23 officers inside, according to Agence France-Presse. A group called Popular Action claimed responsibility. Others tipped a police car over when a protest started.

Before that, 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 for that demonstration: “We chose this monument to democracy, this global monument, to proclaim our resistance to state violence and demand rights in education and work.”

Police laid low during the first days of rioting, but as protests and violence continued, riot squads began exerting more force.

Many protests have been peaceful. During one protest, high school and college students marched to parliament and set fire to a paper pig’s head, which wore a policeman’s hat, AFP said.

Background: Tensions between police and groups

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. According to the Monitor, the two policemen involved in the shooting were arrested. 

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.”

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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