Strikes Cripple a Riot-Shaken Greece - new york Times

ATHENS — The Greek government on Wednesday defended its response to the crisis that has gripped the country since a teenager was fatally shot in a clash with the police last weekend, saying that leaders in Athens had chosen not to crack down on a violent minority in an effort to avoid further bloodshed. Even as new clashes erupted during a general strike that disrupted transportation, schools and services throughout Greece, a government spokesman said he expected the crisis to tail off in due course. “I think it’s going to fade out,” said Panos Livadas, general secretary of the Information Ministry. “I think reason will prevail. I also think we will keep on doing our best not to have a future risk of innocent life. No more innocent blood. It’s O.K. if we have to wait a day or two.” The statement coincided with an offer by Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis to compensate shopkeepers whose premises have been damaged in the riots that have swept Greece since Saturday, when the teenager, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, 15, was shot and killed by the police. Tensions remained high on Wednesday in Athens and other major cities. Clashes erupted outside the Parliament building, where several thousand demonstrators had gathered to mark the general strike, and also outside the main Athens courthouse, where two police officers involved in the shooting that sparked the riots were testifying behind closed doors. The riot police reacted by firing tear gas as youths hurled rocks and gasoline bombs. Meanwhile, the policemen’s lawyer, Alexis Cougias, told reporters that a ballistics examination showed that Mr. Grigoropoulos was killed by a ricochet and not a direct shot, The Associated Press reported. One of the officers had said that he had fired warning shots and did not shoot directly at the boy. There was no comment from prosecutors, who do not make public statements on pending cases. The general strike on Wednesday was a new blow to the government after four days of violent protests. Airports were severely affected by the strike as air traffic controllers walked out. Scores of international and local flights were grounded, the state news media reported. Railways, subway and bus lines were virtually halted, as were intercity bus services. But while labor unions went ahead with the national strike, they called off a planned protest to help limit the disorder that has unfurled through the country. Dozens of people have been arrested in the past four days as rioters have fought with the police and rampaged in Athens and other cities. The general strike was originally called to press economic demands for increased pay and to protest belt-tightening measures put forward by the government. But the antigovernment movement acquired new impetus after the shooting on Saturday. While clashes between the police and students have been common in Greece for decades, the ferocity of the reaction to the boy’s death took the nation — and its government — by surprise. Outrage over the death was widespread, fueled by what experts say is a growing frustration with unemployment and corruption in one of the European Union’s consistently underperforming economies, worsened by global recession. But it was expressed in violence in the streets by student anarchists. They had been quiet for several years but seemed revived by the crisis. Mr. Karamanlis, hanging on to power in Parliament by only one vote, has seemed frozen, his government, once popular but now scandal-ridden, increasingly under pressure. “He’s seriously troubled” about the riots, said Nicholas Karahalios, a strategy adviser to the prime minister. “Whereas before we were dealing with a political and economic crisis, now there’s a third dimension attached to it: a security crisis which exacerbates the situation.” More demonstrations were expected in the national strike Wednesday. On Tuesday, bands of militant youths threw gasoline bombs and smashed shop windows in downtown Athens, as rioters battled with the police here in the capital and in Salonika, Greece’s second largest city. In the port city of Patras, residents tried to protect their shops from rioters, while other rioters blocked the police station, the authorities said. While widespread and violent, the protests on Tuesday were seen as slightly smaller than those the day before, when after dark hundreds of professed anarchists broke the windows of upscale shops, banks and hotels in central Athens and burned a large Christmas tree in the plaza in front of Parliament


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