Crisis talks to end Greek riots

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis began emergency talks on Tuesday on ways to halt three days of rioting that threaten the conservative government.

Karamanlis met President Karolos Papoulis and was due to meet other top politicians to discuss clashes between youths and police in which more than 50 people have been injured and many buildings damaged since police shot dead a teenager on Saturday.

Violence has broken out in Athens, Thessaloniki and several other cities over a shooting which stoked anger over corruption scandals, a widening gap between rich and poor and economic problems exacerbated by the global financial crisis.

It is not clear what measures the government is considering to end the worst rioting in decades.

The funeral of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos later on Tuesday is likely to increase tension and, with a general strike over economic policy planned for Wednesday, political analysts say the government’s grip on power is weakening.

“Flames rage as the government looks on”, the daily newspaper Kathimerini said, criticising the ruling New Democracy party’s handling of the riots.

“At the mercy of anarchy”, said the daily Eleftheros Typos.

Karamanlis’ party holds a one-seat majority in Parliament and was already trailing the opposition Socialists by more than five percentage points before the riots.

Economists forecast annual economic growth will be below 2% next year after averaging about 4% over the past decade.

Unemployment is at 7% and rising, and inflation remains stubbornly high.

“The country does not have a government. The prevailing chaos and this manifest crisis is the result of its decisions and failures,” said Socialist leader George Papandreou, who was due to meet Karamanlis.

“The government has become dangerous for Greece and the Greek people.”

Striking a raw nerve
Protests have broken out in more than 10 cities across the European Union member state of 11 million people, including the tourist islands of Crete and Corfu.

Greeks have also protested in London and Berlin.

Youths set fire to a large Christmas tree in central Athens on Monday night and more than 130 shops have been destroyed in the capital, dashing retailers’ hopes that Christmas will compensate for Greece’s darkening economic outlook.

Protesters posed for photos in front of the blaze as others sang Oh Christmas Tree.

One policeman has been charged with murder over Grigoropoulos’s shooting.

Police said the officer fired three warning shots after their car was attacked by 30 youths on Saturday but witnesses said he took aim.

The shooting touched a raw nerve among young Greeks, many of whom have poor economic prospects.

Violence at student rallies and fire-bomb attacks by anarchist groups are common.

The streets of central Athens were quiet on Tuesday after Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis appealed to people not to come to the centre unless they had an urgent need and to keep their cars off the streets.

Clean-up crews with tractors swept chunks of broken paving, glass, burnt garbage and charred cars from the city’s avenues. Some buildings had been gutted by flames.

Police have arrested 150 people, some for looting, during the protests and have used tear gas against stone-throwing youths, but have tried to avoid direct fighting, police officials say.

Dozens of masked youths are holed up in a university building, as under Greek law, police are barred from entering universities.

“I’m 73 years old and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Thomas Siozos, whose shop was damaged.

“The death of the boy was an excuse—the pot was already boiling and it has now overflowed. This government cannot only look after the rich.”

Although there is little public support for street violence, there is a deep well of tolerance for demonstrations in Greece, where the right to protest is held dear.—Sapa-AP, Reuters

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