19 charged after night of rioting

Nineteen suspected anarchist rioters were charged yesterday with a series of offenses ranging from arson and explosives possession to illegally operating a cafeteria in the central Athens district of Exarchia, where groups of youths clashed with riot police throughout the night. In a massive show of force, riot police flooded Exarchia on Thursday night following riots by self-styled anarchists who had just concluded a central Athens demonstration against neo-fascist groups. After rioters armed with petrol bombs set fire to rubbish dumpsters on Zoodochou Pigis and Emmanouil Benaki streets – also destroying a parked car – and threw stones at other parked cars and a bank branch, causing extensive damage, police took the unusual step of trying to arrest the perpetrators. Using copious quantities of tear gas to disperse the rioters, riot squad officers gave chase to the youths through the streets of Exarchia – an area teeming with open-air cafes and restaurants – and detained a total of 141 people. Among the detainees were customers from two cafes. The owner of one of the establishments, left-wing activist and former terrorism suspect Epaminondas Skyftoulis, was arrested for allegedly operating the cafe without a license and keeping smoke bombs on the premises. Police claimed that one of the rioters threw a hand grenade at them – which failed to explode. Yesterday, 19 of the detainees were formally accused of arson and explosives possession, harboring fugitives, bodily harm, damaging foreign property, drug possession and gang membership. Police are thought to have been particularly incensed by photographs posted on the Internet that showed masked youths posing with riot police shields and a helmet that were stolen during a recent petrol bomb attack on a police bus. The riots followed last Wednesday’s occupation of the Athens Polytechnic by anarchists, who detained for several hours a group of people attending a book launch – including two PASOK MPs and former ministers – after one of the deputies’ police guards shot and slightly wounded one of a bunch of youths who had attacked him.