ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police fired teargas to disperse rioting protesters as thousands marched in Athens on Sunday to mark the police killing of a teenager, which unleashed the country’s worst riots in decades last year.
Hooded youths broke from the march of more than 3,000 people to smash shop windows and set garbage bins alight. Riot police chased groups of stone-throwing protesters in deserted streets in the center of the city, filled with tear gas.
Two protesters and 16 policemen were hurt. The dean of Athens University was rushed to hospital with head injuries after being attacked by youths who raided the building, burned the Greek flag on its roof and replaced it with an anarchist flag.
Protesters in central Athens unfolded a banner reading “Remember, remember, the 6th of December.” Some dressed in black chanted “Policemen, Pigs, Murderers.”
Greece’s new socialist government has deployed more than 6,000 police on Athens streets saying it was determined to avert a repeat of last year’s unrest that hit the capital and major cities, causing millions of euros of damage.
“It appears that we have overcome the biggest danger,” said a senior government official who requested anonymity. “We have about 600-1,000 people playing hide and seek with police in university buildings but we are determined to stop them.”
Police said they detained about 160 people in Athens alone on Sunday, a total of 270 over the weekend. They said the detentions prevented more widespread damage, contrary to the 2008 unrest, when rioters and looters rampaged unabated.
Another 130 were detained in protests throughout Greece, including 88 in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where demonstrators smashed the windows of a Starbuck’s coffee shop. Overall, about 30 shops and banks were damaged, police said.
Last year, thousands of people took to the streets and clashed with police hours after the killing of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, destroying shops, attacking public buildings and burning cars, turning central Athens into a war zone for weeks.
The riots were fueled by discontent with unemployment and economic hardship. Protesters on Sunday said the government may have changed but not much had improved in their everyday lives.
“The government which caused the murder has collapsed but nothing has changed in terms of police brutality,” said Panos Garganas, 63, a university employee. “We want more jobs, more education and no more police.”
The socialists revealed after winning October 4 elections that Greece was in much worse shape than reported by the defeated conservatives, with the economy in recession for most of 2009, deficits and debt spiralling out of control.
Grigoropoulos’s death unleashed a renewed wave of leftist guerrilla violence, with groups targeting police stations, businesses and politicians throughout the year. One policeman was shot dead in June by the Rebel Sect group.
On Sunday evening, hundreds attended a memorial service in the Exarchia district, where Grigoropoulos was shot dead, and more protests were planned for Monday.
His parents appealed for peace during the demonstrations. Two policemen are facing murder charges for shooting the boy.
“I don’t want to see Athens burning again,” his father Vangelis told an Athens newspaper. “This would not honor my child’s memory, it would mar it.”
Greek police said about 150 foreign anarchists had arrived from Italy, Spain and other European countries. Five Italians and one Spaniard were among those arrested over the weekend.
Writing by Dina Kyriakidou, Editing by Angus MacSwan