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Petros Giannakouris/AP
Riot police walk through yellow smoke from a flare thrown by rioters at a demonstration
in central Athens, Greece, Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008. 

Greek Riots Continue to Escalate With Shooting of Police Officer

January 06, 2009 11:02 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
An Athens police officer has been seriously wounded by gunfire as unrest stemming from the police shooting of a teenager continues in Greece.

Protesters Attack Police in Athens

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A Greek police officer in Athens has been seriously wounded after being shot by “gunmen linked to Greece’s most militant guerillas,” Reuters reported. 

Greece’s prime minister, Costas Karamanlis, told reporters: “I express my abhorrence, my sorrow over the murderous attack against policemen. Bullets against them are targeted mainly at democracy and society as a whole.”

Gunmen fired on riot police early Monday morning, and the 21-year-old officer who was injured was in critical but stable condition, according to Reuters. The gun used in the attack was also used in another attack on police in 2007, officials 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 on board, 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. High school and college students on Tuesday 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.”

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: “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 early on.

“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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