August 16, 2013 / 5:11 PM / 4 years ago

Student's death touches nerve in austerity-hit Greece

ATHENS (Reuters) - A 19-year-old Greek student who died after an argument with a bus ticket inspector has come to symbolize the plight of a population ground down by worsening poverty and unemployment.

Thanassis Kanaoutis suffered a fatal head injury when he fell or jumped from a moving bus as it passed through a middle-class neighborhood of Athens late on Tuesday.

Prosecutors have not yet established how Kanaoutis died.

Witnesses said they saw him brawl with the ticket inspector. The bus company said he pulled the emergency brake to jump out, but the family's lawyer said Kanaoutis might have been pushed during the altercation.

The incident quickly touched a nerve in Greece, where the government is using increasingly tough methods to collect revenue under pressure from its international lenders to fix its finances.

About 300 people, among them anti-bailout groups, marched to the cemetery where Kanaoutis's funeral was held on Friday evening. After the service, dozens of youths pelted riot police with stones near the spot where he died.

Protesters smashed the windows of a bus in the area and scrawled "Murderers" in red paint on the windshield.

"This is the last kid who gets buried - from now on their blood will flow," a teenage boy was heard shouting after the service. The shooting of a 15-year-old by police in 2008 triggered violent rioting across Greece for weeks.

The main opposition party and several media commentators were quick to blame the government's austerity policies for his death.

"Kanaoutis died because he didn't have a ticket worth 1.20 euros ($1.59)," said the main opposition Syriza party in a statement.

"This highlights in the most tragic way the desperate situation into which bailout policies have plunged large parts of Greek society," Syriza added.

It demanded free public transport for the unemployed, low-income pensioners and students.

"International loan-sharks are pushing Greece towards cannibalism," read a headline on the front page of anti-bailout leftist newspaper Eleftherotypia.

Public transport companies intensified ticket controls this year as part of measures to plug their deficits. Deputy Transport Minister Michalis Papadopoulos said he was reviewing the way the controls are carried out.

Bloggers and media have pointed to pay incentives given to controllers, who make a commission of about half the 72-euro fine levied on ticket dodgers.

"Down with the headhunters," read graffiti daubed on a subway station in Athens. A bus route was suspended briefly on Wednesday after angry youths stopped a bus to talk to the driver.

Thirteen protesters were arrested in the northern city of Thessaloniki on Wednesday for spraying graffiti in support of Kanaoutis.

Additional reporting by Tatiana Fragou; editing by Andrew Roche

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