Probe launched into shop owners’ blackmail charges

Athens first instance prosecutor Eleni Raikou on Tuesday ordered an immediate investigation into allegations from store owners in central Athens that groups of rioters had demanded money from them in order not to destroy their businesses on Sunday night.

The order comes after the owner of the Asty Cinema, one of dozens of establishments destroyed by gangs of rioters on the sidelines of an anti-austerity rally in the Greek capital on Sunday, told Skai Radio that he was approached by a group of hooded men who demanded that he pay them so that they do not set fire to the cinema.

Other shop owners have since come forward and said that they received similar threats.

Around 45 buildings, nine of which are listed, including two cinemas, banks and cafes, were seriously damaged in arson attacks on Sunday night, while about 150 stores were vandalized and looted.

Municipal cleaning crews on Tuesday said that they had removed more than 40 tons of marble from the streets of the city, which was broken off sidewalks, benches and building furnishings by rioters, and used as projectiles against police.

The City of Athens estimates that the cost of repairing the damage to public infrastructure like traffic lights, signposting and street furniture will exceed one million euros.

Meanwhile, speaking on Skai Television earlier on Tuesday, the vice-president of the Athens Traders Association, Nikos Kogioumtsis, said that just 20 percent of the businesses hit by rioters will be in a position to reopen at some point in the near future, while also suggesting that the association is considering taking legal action against the state for failing to protect their businesses.