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Riots test Greek government

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek demonstrators vowed another wave of protests on Monday, two days after police shot dead a 15-year-old boy sparking riots that left dozens injured across the country.

A policeman walks in front of a burnt building following riots in Athens December 7, 2008. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

Thousands of youths clashed with police and rampaged through Athens and other cities this weekend, burning scores of cars and shops in the worst protests to erupt in Greece in years.

Pressure on the conservative government showed no sign of easing. The Greek Communist Party called a mass rally in central Athens for Monday evening and the socialist PASOK opposition, which has risen to top spot in opinion polls recently, said Greeks must denounce the government.

“We must answer the government’s policies en masse and peacefully,” the PASOK youth branch said in a statement.

University professors, who had planned to join a nationwide workers’ strike against pension reforms and economic policies on Wednesday, said they would now stage a three-day walkout starting Monday. Blogs popular with high school students urged them to stay away from class.

Ignoring the government’s appeals for calm, leftist demonstrators and anarchists staged running battles with police after the teenager’s killing, which shocked the nation.

“Justice has taken over,” Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos told reporters after an urgent government meeting on Sunday. “Raw violence directed at social peace and the property of innocent people is inconceivable.”

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The minister submitted his resignation but it was rejected by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who has seen his government’s popularity eroded in the face of scandals and as the world economic crisis bites.

The shooting touched a raw nerve among Greek youth, whose anger has been fanned by the growing gap between rich and poor in recent years. Violence at student rallies and fire bomb attacks by anarchist groups are common.


Two police officers have been charged over the shooting -- one with premeditated murder and the other with abetting him. A police statement said one officer fired three shots after their car was attacked by a group of 30 youths in the bohemian Athens district of Exarchia.

A police official said the officer had described firing warning shots, but witnesses told TV he took aim at the boy, identified as Alexandros Grigoropoulos.

Just hours after his death, protesters clashed with police in Athens and the violence spread across the country, as far as the northern city of Thessaloniki and the tourist islands of Crete and Corfu, leaving 34 people injured. Police detained 20.

For most of Sunday, protesters chanting “Cops, Pigs, Murderers” rained petrol bombs down on rows of Athens riot police, while helicopters hovered overhead and tear gas choked the city.

More than 30 shops and a dozen banks were torched in the capital’s busiest commercial districts ahead of the busy Christmas period. The mayor of Athens postponed the launch of holiday festivities.

In Thessaloniki, more than 1,000 protesters clashed with police, set fire to a bank and smashed several stores. Rioters also clashed with police in the western city of Patras.

About 200 protesters rioted outside police headquarters in Crete’s second city of Chania. On Corfu, protesters smashed up four cars and two shops, and an 18-year-old woman was injured.