ATHENS Riots erupted for a fifth day and strikes paralyzed Greece on Wednesday, as unrest ignited by the police shooting of a teenager was fueled further by resentment of economic hardship and government scandals.
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced financial support for businesses damaged in the riots and main socialist opposition leader George Papandreou appealed for an end to the violence that has gripped more than 10 Greek cities.
"Government murderers!" demonstrators shouted, furious at the shooting of a boy by police on Saturday.
Karamanlis, clinging to a thin majority, pledged to safeguard people from violence, but did not say how. Government sources denied rumors emergency measures were being considered. No more protests are planned this week and the premier flies to Brussels on Thursday for an EU summit but tension remains high.
Protesters lobbed firebombs at police, who returned volleys of tear gas outside Athens polytechnic university. Hooded youths pulled a driver from her car and set it alight in front of her.
Earlier, marchers clashed with police outside parliament following a rally against economic and social policy.
"Participation in the strike is total, the country has come to a standstill," said Stathis Anestis, spokesman for the GSEE union federation, which called the 24-hour strike along with its public sector counterpart ADEDY, numbering millions of members.
Foreign and domestic flights were grounded, banks and schools were shut, and hospitals ran on emergency services as hundreds of thousands of Greeks walked off the job.
Unions say privatizations, tax rises and pension reform have worsened conditions, especially for the one-fifth of Greeks who live below the poverty line, just as the global downturn is hurting the 240 billion-euro economy.
"We are fed up with scandals and corruption," said demonstrator Efi Giannisi, 38, an English teacher.
COUNTING THE COST
The Greek Commerce Confederation said damage to businesses in Athens alone was worth about 200 million euros ($259 million), with 565 shops seriously damaged.
In a televised message, Karamanlis, who swept to power amid the euphoria of the 2004 Athens Olympics, announced subsidies, loans and tax relief measures for those affected.
"The government is determined not only to make citizens feel safe but to support businesses which suffered damage," he said.
In four years of conservative rule, a series of scandals, devastating forest fires, and unsuccessful economic measures have erased the optimistic mood of 2004.
The opposition socialist party, which has overtaken the ruling conservatives in opinion polls, has called for elections.
"I appeal to all to show responsibility, restraint and to end the violence that our country is experiencing these days," Papandreou told a conference.
One policeman has been charged with murder and his partner with abetting him over the shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, 15. A prosecutor on Wednesday ordered them both jailed pending trial after the officer testified he had fired in the air.
His lawyer told Reuters the investigation had shown the bullet had ricocheted but witnesses told TV stations after the shooting that the policeman had aimed at the boy and fired.
The ballistics report has not yet been officially published.
Rioting over the boy's death began in Athens on Saturday and quickly spread across the European Union nation of 11 million people. Greeks also protested in Paris, Berlin, London, Rome, The Hague, Moscow, New York, Italy and Cyprus. The unrest is the worst in Greece since the aftermath of military rule in 1974.
In Rome, demonstrators burned a garbage bin and threw fire crackers and rocks at police cars trying to stop them reaching the Greek embassy.
Some shopowners in Athens started to replace broken windows and others boarded them up to prevent further damage. Bus stops and litter bins were blackened by fire, public telephone booths smashed and some buildings gutted by blazes.
Greece has a tradition of violence at student rallies and firebomb attacks by anarchist groups are common.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn, Lefteris Papadimas, Tatiana Fragou and Angeliki Koutantou; writing by Dina Kyriakidou; editing by Andrew Roche)