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December 10, 2008

Greece under siege due to mass riots and general strike

POLITICS - Riot police in Greece fired tear gas at youths throwing Molotov cocktails outside Greek Parliament on today as a general strike paralyzed Greece and raised pressure on a fragile government already reeling from four days of riots sparked by the police shooting of a teenager.

The explosion of anger was sparked by the fatal police shooting Saturday of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos. Two police officers are to appear before a prosecutor later Wednesday, one charged with murder and the other as an accomplice. Greece's police force and Conservative government are rife with widespread corruption and Greek citizens have become growingly upset at the lack of government and police integrity.

The rioting and demonstrations were set off by anger at the shooting but were fed by months of widespread discontent with the corruption and poor economic policies of Greece's conservative government of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, whose party holds a majority of a single seat in the 300-member parliament.

The clashes escalated into running battles through the city centre, with riot police firing volleys of tear gas at masked youths pelting them with rocks, bottles and blocks of marble smashed from the Athens metro station entrance.

More than 10,000 people had been marching through central Athens to protest the conservative government's poor economic policies in a general strike that has shut down schools, public services and hospitals and has grounded flights.

Although the strike and demonstrations had been scheduled long before the riots broke out, they have taken on the added form of protest against the government's handling of the riots.

Clashes also broke out during demonstrations in the northern cities of Thessaloniki and Kavala.

Prime Minister Karamanlis has faced growing opposition over changes to the country's pension system, privatization and the loosening of state control of higher education, which many students oppose because they feel it will undermine their degrees.

For four days now the government's support has dropped lower as gangs of youths maraud through cities across the country, torching businesses, looting shops and setting up burning barricades across streets.

Store owners accuse riot police of leaving their businesses unprotected as rioters smashed and burned their way through popular shopping districts. Although police have defended themselves by firing volley after volley of tear gas when attacked by rock and Molotov cocktail-throwing protesters, they have held back when youths turned against buildings and cars.

Local media reported early Wednesday that groups of civilians had begun taking matters into their own hands, confronting looters in the western city of Patras and the central city of Larissa.

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