Athens riots spin totally out of control
Destruction in central Athens reached levels not seen for decades as rioting that followed the shooting of a 15-year-old boy by a police officer continued for a third day yesterday, despite efforts by the government to appease protesters. Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was chairing an emergency meeting of the Cabinet last night after seeing police and rioters fight running battles throughout the center of Athens, as several buildings were set on fire and dozens of stores attacked. By yesterday afternoon, it was estimated that at least 130 businesses in the city center had been attacked but this figure is expected to rise today. Karamanlis made a public address yesterday afternoon assuring rioters that anyone found responsible for the death of 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos would be punished. But he also condemned the outbreak of violence in Athens, which has been mirrored in many other Greek cities. «All the dangerous and unacceptable events that occurred because of the emotions that followed the tragic incident cannot and will not be tolerated,» he said. «The state will protect society.» However, the prime minister’s pledge of protection sounded hollow as dozens of fires broke out around central Syntagma Square and along all the main roads leading to and from it. Stores, including one with weapons, were smashed and looted as hundreds of protesters vented their anger against the police and the government. Many Athenians found themselves trapped in downtown offices and apartments as the air became thick with tear gas and youths clashed with riot police on the streets. Arrests reached double figures by last night and unconfirmed reports said at least five people were injured, including a police officer who lost a finger. The prime minister is planning to meet the leaders of all the political parties today but the government’s apparent lack of action drew strong criticism last night. «The center of Athens is burning,» the rector of Athens University Christos Kittas told Skai TV. «It is unacceptable that the political leaders are meeting tomorrow, they should be meeting tonight.» Officer who shot teenager was a special guard; defense attorneys decline the case Epaminondas Korkoneas, the 37-year-old police officer who is alleged to have shot the teenager Alexis Grigoropoulos is a special guard, a force that was created in 1999 but fully inducted into the police only this year. Special guards were intended to take on more menial tasks, such as guarding buildings, so that regular police officers would be able to take up other duties. Speaking to Kathimerini, the legal counsel of the Attica Police Officers’ Union, Vaios Skambardonis, said that police officers are advised that they should only use their revolvers if human life is in danger. However, footage of Saturday’s shooting, captured by a witness on her mobile phone does not appear to show Korkoneas and his colleague coming under any kind of threat. The blurred, dark images appear to show the police officer standing at some distance from the 15-year-old and other youths. There appear to be no signs of the police officers coming under any kind of attack. Korkoneas has been charged with murder and illegal use of a weapon while his colleague has been charged as an accomplice. Their next appearance in court is in some doubt as the lawyers assigned to defend them have refused to accept their case. This has been interpreted as an indication that the officers’ argument that they were acting in self-defense was not convincing.