Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Greece Braces For General Strike After Four Nights of Youth Rebellion

Greece braces for general strike

Greece has already been shaken by several days of riots
Greece is braced for further turmoil after days of violence as unions stage a general strike in protest against the government's economic policies.

The strike is expected to shut down banks and offices and severely disrupt public transport across the country.

The industrial action was planned weeks ago but follows days of riots sparked by the police shooting of a teenager.

Unions have defied an appeal from PM Costas Karamanlis to cancel a rally planned for central Athens.

Unions called off a major demonstration in Athens but will instead hold a rally outside the Greek parliament at 1100 (0900 GMT).

Workers from the two main umbrella unions - the Greek General Confederation of Workers (GSEE) and the Civil Servants Supreme Administrative Council (ADEDY) are demanding increased social spending in light of the global financial crisis, as well as higher wages and pensions.

They represent about 2.5 million workers - roughly half of the total Greek work force, according to Associated Press news agency.

Greek airlines Olympic and Aegean said they have cancelled a number of flights, ferry links are expected to be cut and train services severely disrupted.

Public transport in a number of cities, including Athens, is expected to be hard hit by the strike.

Teachers, journalists, bank clerks and public sector workers are also due to join the action.

Several 24-hour strikes against the government's economic reform policies have brought the country to a standstill this year.

Shops torched

Prime Minister Karamanlis tried to convince the unions to call off the rally they planned to hold in central Athens.

"We must all have a united stand against illegal actions, to clearly condemn violence, looting and vandalism," he said.

The streets of Athens were calmer on Tuesday night after three consecutive days and nights of riots in which shops and offices were set alight and riot police battled groups of stone- and bottle-throwing youths.

The riots were triggered by the death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, shot by police in Athens on Saturday, and spread to a number of towns and cities across Greece.

Clashes erupted near the suburban Athens cemetery where his funeral was held on Tuesday.

Two police officers have been charged in connection with the teenager's death, but results of a post-mortem to determine the trajectory of the bullet that killed him are not yet known.

The officer who fired says it was a ricochet from a warning shot but witnesses told Greek TV he fired directly at the teenager.

The protesters' frustration has been fuelled by corruption scandals and poor economic prospects for many, says the BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens.

The opposition Socialist party leader George Papandreou has called on Mr Karamanlis to resign and call elections.

Mr Karamanlis, whose conservative party has a parliamentary majority of just one seat, has called for unity and said rioters would not be shown any leniency.

Fourth night of riots sets stage for Greek general strike

ATHENS (AFP) - - A fourth night of violence pitting angry youths against riot police plunged Greece deeper into a social and political crisis hours ahead of a long-planned general strike Wednesday.

In a televised address, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis blamed running battles between protesters and security forces -- triggered by the killing of a teenager with a policeman's bullet -- on the "enemies of democracy."

Amid mounting calls for his fragile government to resign over the chaos, the prime minister warned that "the struggles of workers and the unjust death of a youth cannot be confused with acts of vandalism."

But Wednesday's general strike is set to bring much of the country to a standstill, with airlines, public transport and even the media responding to union calls although organisers cancelled a planned rally in Athens .

It comes at the worst possible time for the Greek government, its majority having been trimmed to a single member in the 300-seat parliament following a financial scandal involving property deals.

"The government has lost public confidence," main opposition leader George Papandreou said. "The only thing it can give this country is to depart... to seek a public verdict so that the people can give a solution."

As Greece awaits a ballistics report which could shed light on the officer's claim that the boy died from a ricochet, clashes continued Tuesday within walking distance of the cemetery where Alexis Grigoropoulos, 15, was buried.

Hundreds of protesters went on to raid stores in Nea Smyrni, south of central Athens, with locals later saying police who chased a series of groups of demonstrators for hours fired their weapons into the air.

And as midnight approached, protesters occupying the historic Athens Polytechnic university for a third night set the surrounding streets ablaze with firebombs as they targeted police who again responded with tear gas.

In the western port of Patras, some 500 youths laid siege to the police headquarters during the evening -- with police saying around 100 subsequently made for the sanctuary of university buildings where ongoing violence flared.

Meanwhile, in northern Salonika, fighting broke out in the city centre -- with around 60 protesters retreating to the philosophy building on a student campus from where they continued to hurl rocks, local police said.

The legacy of Greece's years under military dictatorship, ending in 1974, means that police are banned from entering premises which have become a haven for radicals who argue that state security apparatus benefit from impunity.

Greek agency ANA said clashes were also reported over the course of the day in Corinth, Ioaninna, Alexandroupolis, Larissa and on the Aegean islands of Mytilene and Rhodes, emphasising the nationwide pressure piling on Karamanlis.

Back in Athens, riot police dragged away tear-gassed protesters from outside the Greek parliament and the main police HQ after petrol bombs were hurled at their lines in a bid to breach a cordon around official buildings.

About 100 protesters later held a "silent" candlelight vigil in front of lines of riot police guarding the parliament -- amid the noise of stray dogs profiting from empty streets after Athenians shunned the city centre.

Fans also observed a minute's silence at Tuesday night's Champions League soccer victory for Greek giants Panathinaikos over Cypriot rivals Anorthosis, which passed off without major incident after a heavy police deployment.

At the last count across Greece, 108 people have been arrested -- with one of the most graphic attacks by looting rioters involving swords and slingshots stolen from a weapons shop, Athens police said.

Twenty-nine people have been hospitalised, most with respiratory problems from the cloud of tear gas which blanketed Athens amid the burnt out rubbish bins, glass and paving slabs torn off sidewalks littering its streets.

Emergency services said fires were put out at 49 office buildings, 47 shops, 14 banks, 20 cars and three ministries, while Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis told private TV station MEGA that over 370 shops may have been attacked.

Grigoropoulos was allegedly among a group of youths that had thrown stones at a squad car in a district of Athens that is known as a radical stronghold. The policeman who fired the shots and his partner have been arrested.

Protests as Athens funeral held

Protesters and police clashed in the streets

Violence continued for a fourth day in Athens, as a funeral was held for a teenager whose death has sparked rioting across Greece.

Clashes erupted near the cemetery where 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, shot by police on Saturday, was buried.

Youths also fought police outside parliament, in a repeat of the violence that has seen hundreds of buildings torched and dozens injured.

The opposition said the government had lost public support and should resign.

On Wednesday union leaders plan to hold a 24-hour general strike over welfare reforms. Police fear the stoppage, which is expected to bring the country to a standstill, could fuel further violence.

Funeral clashes

Fresh protests began in central Athens early on Tuesday. Schools were shut as thousands of teachers, schoolchildren and parents marched on parliament to protest against the killing.

The situation escalated as hundreds of young people joined the protest, throwing stones and bottles at lines of riot police, who responded with tear gas.

In the afternoon thousands of mourners gathered for the teenager's funeral in a coastal suburb further south.

The ceremony was calm, but violence then erupted outside the cemetery. Police used tear gas against groups of youths who threw stones and set rubbish bins ablaze.

By late evening, 15,000 police were deployed in the capital to maintain control, Reuters news agency said.

There was more fighting elsewhere in the country too.

In Thessaloniki, police clashed with groups of young people following a protest march earlier in the day. In Patras, a western port, rioters armed with petrol bombs and stones attacked the main police station.

Two police officers have been charged in connection with Alexandros Grigoropoulos's death, but results of a post-mortem to determine the trajectory of the bullet that killed him are not yet known.

The officer who fired says it was a ricochet from a warning shot but witnesses told Greek TV he fired directly at the teenager.

Lost confidence

In Athens, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis held talks with President Karolos Papoulias and opposition leaders to discuss what action to take.

Mr Karamanlis, whose conservative party has a parliamentary majority of just one seat, called for unity and said rioters would not be shown any leniency.

"No one has the right to use this tragic incident as an excuse for acts of violence," he said.

But socialist leader George Papandreou said Greeks had lost confidence in the government.

"The only thing this government can offer is to resign and turn to the people for its verdict," he said.


Scores of arrests have been made since Saturday. Protesters wielding petrol bombs have set fire to banks, shops, hotels, vehicles and even the giant Christmas tree in Athens' central Syntagma Square.

Violent clashes have been reported in towns and cities across the country.

Appeals for calm have so far been largely ignored. Police appear to be powerless to prevent rioters from attacking symbols of wealth and prestige in Athens, the BBC's Malcolm Brabant reports.

"Rage is what I feel for what has happened, rage," said one protesting student. "This cop who did it must see what it is to kill a kid and to destroy a life."

Mr Karamanlis has blamed "extreme elements" for taking advantage of the situation to engage in vandalism and pledged to compensate damaged businesses.

Observers say a state of emergency may be imposed, giving the authorities special powers to clear the streets.

But there is no question of calling in troops, our correspondent says: Greece has bitter memories of military rule so seeing troops on streets would be beyond the pale.

The Anti-Imperialist Camp Statement on Greece Rebellion

The Anti-imperialist Camp welcomes the wonderful revolt of the Greek youth and expresses it utmost solidarity. It comes at the right time as a harbinger of a generalised popular revolt against the global capitalist oligarchy bearing the responsibility for the upcoming devastating social crisis. It brings back life to Europe.

We fully support the attempts of the antagonist forces to gather the popular masses for an onslaught on the government in order to topple it. Tomorrow’s general strike is a further step in this direction.

The big challenge will be to hinder PASOK to reap the fruits of the struggle just to save the system as they did so many times before. At the same time we call upon the Greek Communist Party not to stay aside and watch but to throw all its power into the struggle. Otherwise the struggling masses will remember the shameful episode of 1989, when the KKE entered a government with Nea Demokratia, the party of the capitalist elites which is being fought today.

December 9, 2008

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