Chaos in Athens as tensions peak

Mounting tensions between police and protesters climaxed in central Athens yesterday, as masked youths hurled firebombs at police while news that a high school student had been shot in the hand in a western suburb fueled anger. Officers fought running battles with rioters, who pelted them with stones and firebombs and set fire to trash bins and cars. In Syntagma Square, riot police guarded a new Christmas tree, erected by municipal authorities to replace the original burnt the week before. Groups of self-styled anarchists entered the Athens University law school from which smoke was reported to be rising in the late afternoon. Meanwhile, around 5,000 schoolchildren and other demonstrators staged a mostly peaceful march through the center. In Peristeri, western Athens, local residents gathered to protest after a 16-year-old boy was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the hand. The boy, whose father is a teacher and a unionist affiliated with the Communist Party (KKE), reportedly suffered the injury on Wednesday night when unidentified assailants fired at him while he was standing with friends on a street corner. Witnesses claimed two shots were fired, the first of which hit the boy's hand. The boy's father Constantinos Paplomatas spoke of «a murder attempt... by sinister forces.» A police spokesman said that no officers had been in the area at the time. Responding to the news, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said that such incidents highlight «the fragile and valuable nature of social equilibrium which it is the government's chief priority to maintain.» The KKE has planned a protest rally in Peristeri to begin at noon today. In a related development yesterday, the investigating magistrate probing the death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos by a police bullet on December 6 was given the results of a ballistics test. According to sources, the results are not conclusive and so cannot substantiate, or disprove, claims by the defendant police officer that the bullet had ricocheted off a hard surface before entering the teenager's body. Yesterday's unrest was the climax of a tense week that saw protesters up the ante with a spectacular protest on the Acropolis, appealing for European citizens to stage parallel rallies, and the hijacking of a state television studio. Return of violent street battles causes mood within Cabinet to turn sour The return of widespread violence to the streets of Athens yesterday, as well as the shooting of another teenager, who was injured in an apparently unprovoked attack by unidentified assailants, put a damper on the mood within the government. The Inner Cabinet met yesterday and sources suggested there was concern among ministers that the conservatives have been unable to restore order to the city center. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and Tourism Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos informed the Cabinet that their French and British counterparts respectively have asked to be kept informed of developments with regards to the unrest and the safety of their citizens in Greece. It appears that there is uncertainty within the Cabinet about how to deal with the current crisis and the shooting of a 16-year-old in Peristeri has only compounded this confusion. Opposition parties pounced on the incident as evidence that the government has lost control of an increasingly dangerous situation. PASOK spokesman Giorgos Papaconstantinou said that the government's responsibility for the incident was «obvious and great» and blamed it on «the policies that got us here and the sense of insecurity that Greeks feel.» The Communist Party called it a «murderous attack» aimed at deterring youths from getting involved in demonstrations. The youth section of the Synaspismos Left Coalition blamed the incident on the government and «far-right elements.»