Thursday, December 18, 2008

Greek Youth and Workers Clash With Police in Ongoing Strikes and Rebellions

Athens suffocates under barrage of tear gas

(AFP) - - The Greek capital was suffocating under a barrage of tear gas Thursday as 5,000 protesters swamped riot police outside parliament, 12 days after the police killing of a teenager sparked riots.

Militant youths tried to breach a cordon guarding the Syntagma Square complex, prompting police to use teargas, an AFP correspondent said.

Later, they attacked the city's giant Christmas tree on the square -- which had only been replaced on Tuesday after the first went up in flames on December 8, the third day of rioting and looting.

Greek authorities had earlier this week sent out urgent appeals to foreign countries for fresh stocks of tear gas -- and warned the public to steer clear of the city centre after a coalition of students, teachers, unions and left-wing demonstrators vowed to step up anti-government sentiment.

When the initial attack at the parliament was repelled, protesters came back with a hail of oranges -- before setting cars, bins and pavement cafe furniture ablaze as they retreated towards their rallying point, the Athens Polytechnic university.

Firefighters descended on the student quarter as youths hurled rocks at police -- while a stone's throw away, Athenians tried to do their Christmas shopping.

The bid to burn the Christmas tree was blocked by police, but youths later climbed the giant fir to shower the scene with pamphlets.

More rallies were planned for after dark.

Triggered by the fatal police shooting of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos, the unrest intensified after the 16-year-old son of a leading official in the Greek Teachers Federation -- which backs demonstrations across Greece -- was wounded in a rifle attack overnight in an Athens suburb.

Hit in the hand as he talked with other students, police said he spent the night in hospital before undergoing an operation.

Police said none of their officers were in the area at the time of the incident, but the Greek government promised a detailed inquiry.

Protest organisers had called for backing from across Europe, but the only reported rally by late afternoon was in Germany, where about 100 people marched in Berlin.

"We want to show that the movement in Greece isn't just about youths on the rampage but is a political movement," said Sofia Bemteza, 29, a Greek artist based there.

Police had cleared streets around the key Athens flashpoints and told residents not to venture out.

At the main rally, banners read "Mourning Is Not Enough, The Struggle Goes On."

Strikes and protests organised by a public employees' union over the Greek budget and anti-racism demonstrations -- which started Thursday as evening fell -- added to the turmoil.

Activists on Wednesday hung banners along the Acropolis monument and interrupted a state television broadcast in a bid to prolong their movement.

Meanwhile, a ballistics report on the death of Grigoropoulos was handed over to an investigating judge on Thursday.

The judge summoned lawyers for the police officer charged over the killing and the victim's family to inform them of the report's conclusions, a court source said.

Preliminary conclusions by medical examiners and experts working for the victim's family indicated damage to the bullet, suggesting it had touched a hard surface before hitting Grigoropoulos in the chest.

The officer, Epaminondas Korkoneas, 37, says he killed the boy by accident. His partner, Vassilios Saraliotis, 31, was charged with being an accomplice.

Thursday, December 18, 2008
18:55 Mecca time, 15:55 GMT

Greek protesters clash with police

About 7,000 people took part in the protest against the government's social and economic reforms

Greek protesters have hurled firebombs and stones at police outside parliament, while unions grounded flights and shut down public offices in a 13th day of anti-government protests since police shot dead a teenager.

Demonstrators waving red flags jostled with police, who had formed a cordon around parliament, and attempted to burn down a Christmas tree in the square outside.

Police fired teargas to disperse the crowd who carried banners with slogans such as "Down with the government of blood, poverty and privatisations".

About 7,000 people took part in the protest against the government's social and economic reforms, which many Greeks say have failed to shelter Greeks from the global economic crisis, and which were unleashed by the teenager's killing.

'Not finished'

Rallies by unions, students and teachers also took place in the northern city of Thessaloniki and on the island of Crete.

Stathis Anestis, a spokesman for the GSEE private sector union federation which took part in the rallies, said: "We are not finished just because it's Christmas. We will continue and intensify our struggle in the next year."

A three-hour work stoppage by public workers halted all but emergency flights between 1000 and 1300 GMT on Thursday.

Transport services were frozen, while doctors and teachers walked off the job, reviving memories of last week's 24-hour national strike.

Adding to tensions in the capital, before further protests planned later on Thursday and Friday, police said a 16-year-old had been shot in the hand by an unidentified gunman in Athens late on Wednesday.

"Not only policeman carry guns," said Panagiotis Stathis, a police spokesman, strongly denying any officers were involved.

"There were no policemen there because there was no reason. We are now conducting an investigation to see who was responsible," he said.

Opinion poll

The protests have caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage in Athens alone and have shaken the increasingly unpopular conservative government.

An opinion poll published on Thursday by Avgi, a left-wing newspaper, conducted after the start of the riots, showed the opposition Pan-Hellenic Socialist Party 6.5 percentage points ahead of the ruling New Democracy party.

Government officials say the violence has tarnished Greece's image overseas.

The policeman who shot 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos has been charged with murder, and jailed pending trial, while his partner was charged as an accomplice.

He says he fired a warning shot in self-defence against a group of youths but the family's lawyer said he aimed to kill without significant provocation.

Source: Al Jazeera

Shooting of Greek youth sparks national rebellion

By Larry Hales
Published Dec 17, 2008 3:39 PM

Two cops in the Exarchia neighborhood of Athens, Greece, gunned down 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos on Dec. 6. Hours after the shooting, young people in Athens began to rebel against the cops. The next day the rebellions began to spread to other major cities, including to Thessaloniki—the second largest city—to the north and the island of Crete to the south.

Stunned by the rebellions that erupted after the killing of the unarmed youth, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis responded by arresting the two cops involved. Since the arrests, the shooter, Epaminondas Korkoneas, has been charged with voluntary homicide and his partner with being an accomplice.

With the arrests and charges the right-wing government was attempting to stop the rebellions. These have continued, however, along with mass protests and a general strike that had already been planned, but has added demands regarding the murder of Grigoropoulus.

Not even the false sympathy of Karamanlis, who said, “Like all Greeks I am deeply saddened,” nor an apology from the Police Association could cease what had been long brewing.

The police and the government have tried to portray the incident as isolated. At times they indicated that the shooting was a mistake. The cops’ story blames the youth, justifying the killing by claiming they were merely defending themselves from attack.

A friend of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, who was at his side when the young man was killed, tells a different story. According to the friend, Nikos R., “When someone threw the plastic bottle, the police, both of them if I am not mistaken, took their weapons out of their holsters, aimed in front of them, that is towards the place where I, Alexandros and the other person were, and three continuous shots were heard. I forgot to tell you that I am sure that one of the two police officers held his weapon with both hands. I saw then—and I am absolutely sure—that the police weren’t shooting either towards the sky or towards the ground. They aimed towards our location and fired!

“Alexandros fell down, if I am not mistaken, on the first or second gunshot, surely anyways before the third. ... Afterwards, I didn’t know what was going on. People were yelling and some people lifted up Alexandros’ shirt. I saw that he had a hole in the middle of the chest and a little towards the heart. There was blood from the wound.”

Nikos ends his statement to the interviewer with, “The only thing I want to tell you is that they didn’t kill Alexandros. They murdered him in cold blood.” (

There is little doubt that the masses of workers and students in Greece see the killing as Alexandros’ friend did and that this viewpoint is what sparked the insurrections across all of Greece and initiated solidarity actions in countries throughout Europe and in other parts of the world.

However, the killing of Grigoropoulus is not the sole cause of the rebellions. It may have been the catalyst to the violence at the moment, but if the insurrection’s primary goal was to seek the arrest of those responsible, then perhaps things would have settled.

It is the violent nature of the state apparatus as a whole that is partly responsible. More than that, though, the state is beholden to a system that perpetuates violence, economic and physical violence. This system is in a state of decline and workers and the poor are suffering from it, as capitalist states pile the burden upon the workers’ shoulders—this fact is ultimately where another truth emanates from. This truth is that oppression and repression breed resistance.

Tens of thousands marched spontaneously on Dec. 7 and 8. Organized marches were called by many coalitions and parties on the left. And the rebellions continued to rage.

Teachers began a strike on Dec. 9 in protest of the killing.

On Dec. 10, after the rebellions had raged for four days, a general strike was carried out, organized by the trade unions close to the Communist Party (KKE). Though the strike had been previously planned as a response to the rising unemployment, poverty, privatizations and other actions of the government, it also raised demands for justice for Alexandros Grigoropoulos.

The strike shut the country down as hundreds of thousands of workers, with the thousands that were already engaging in the rebellions, converged for demonstrations against the government throughout the country, the largest taking place in Athens.

Capitalist media outlets have begun to focus less and less on the situation in Greece. The struggle there continues to remain in the streets and is drawing in broad sectors that could unite behind common demands and a common goal seeking to end the suffering of workers and the poor and put an end to state repression.
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Solidarity with Greek youth and workers

Published Dec 17, 2008 3:25 PM

Activists organized by the youth group FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) protested at the Greek National Tourist Organization in New York on Dec. 16 in solidarity with youth and workers in Greece. The demonstration demanded justice for Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old who was shot and killed by Greek police.

In response to the action, an official from the Tourist Organization met with a delegation of protestors to hear their concerns. FIST plans on holding more demonstrations in solidarity with the struggle of the people of Greece in the near future.

—Report and photo by LeiLani Dowell

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