December 6, 2008
ATHENS, Greece: Hundreds of migrants waiting to submit asylum applications rioted in downtown Athens on Saturday, setting fire to garbage bins and attacking passing cars.....
Thousands of mourners turned out here Tuesday for the funeral of a 15-year-old boy whose shooting death by police officers has tipped the country into its worst riots in decades, exposing the government's fragile hold on a deeply divided society.
Overall, the clashes Tuesday were seen as less intense than those Monday, when after dark hundreds of self-described anarchists broke the windows of upscale shops, banks and five-star hotels in central Athens and burned a large Christmas tree in the plaza in front of Parliament.
On Tuesday, rioters also fought with the police for the fourth day in a row in Salonika, the second-largest city in Greece, while in the port city of Patras, citizens trying to protect their shops came into conflict with rioters.
That the shooting death of a teenager, however tragic, could bring an entire country to its knees speaks to the deep political, social and economic unrest in Greece.
The center-right government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis hangs by a one-vote majority in Parliament and is roiled by a corruption scandal in which two senior ministers have already resigned. Unemployment is high and the global recession hitting hard.
For the second day in a row Tuesday, students, teachers and workers used the demonstrations inspired by the death of Alexandros Grigoropolos, 15, to protest everything from school reforms to the grim economic situation.
Demonstrations, even violent ones, are nothing new in Greece, which has a long tradition of political protest and has been relatively tolerant of the self-described anarchist groups that routinely hold anti-government demonstrations.
Ever since the country shed its seven years of military dictatorship to became a democracy in the mid-1970s, the police have been seen as a throwback to the era of the military junta. Although Greece has a comparatively high ratio of more than 45,000 police for 10 million people, in the popular imagination, they are seen as ineffective and corrupt.
Indeed, Grigoropolos was shot Saturday night in the Athens neighborhood of Exarcheia, where youths routinely fight the police. The police have said Grigoropolos died when officers encountered a mob. But one officer has been charged with premeditated manslaughter in the case and another has been charged as an accomplice.
On Tuesday, thousands lined the street outside the cemetery and small, whitewashed chapel where Grigoropolos was buried in Paleo Faliro, a middle class residential neighborhood where he grew up. His father is a bank manager and his mother a jeweler.
Although the funeral passed peacefully, dozens of militants fought afterward with the police and smashed car windows, though no one was injured.
Earlier on Tuesday, two demonstrations of teachers, students and workers wound their way largely peacefully through central Athens. Once they neared the Parliament building, some students shouted "Down with the government of murderers" and "Let it burn, let it burn, the brothel, the Parliament." Other militants fought the police.
Before the rioting, Karamanlis was popular, even if his government was less so. He won by a wide margin in 2004, promising change after two decades of Socialist rule. He was re-elected in 2007, but his center-right party's lead fell to two votes in Parliament.
But in the autumn of 2008, the government was stung by a corruption scandal in which it was accused of selling a monastery that is prime Athens real estate before the 2004 Olympics in exchange for cheaper land elsewhere.
Last month, two top ministers resigned over reports of more than 250 land swaps and lawmakers unanimously agreed to start a special investigation. The scandals have deeply weakened Karamanlis's government and curbed his chances of implementing changes.
The police in Athens said they wanted de-escalation. Instead, following the Tuesday funeral for 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, riots once again consumed the center of the Greek capital. Neither the police nor the anarchists seem interested in restoring calm.
If you stop responding to his taunts, he'll go away. He's a toothless little pup, but he gets his kicks yapping at people.
And this is related exactly how to the riots in Greece?