Image: Clashes during a demonstration in Athens
Simela Pantzartzi  /  EPA
Riot police try to protect the Christmas tree in Athens' Syntagma Square during clashes with protesters on Thursday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/18/2008 12:25:52 PM ET 2008-12-18T17:25:52

Riot police clashed with rock-throwing demonstrators in central Athens on Thursday, sending Christmas shoppers and people in cafes running for cover. Frightened parents scooped up their children from a Christmas carousel in the city's main square and fled.

The protesters broke away from a peaceful rally and hurled rocks and firebombs at police and buildings near parliament, overturned a car and set fire to trash bins. They also splashed police with red paint.

Police responded with tear gas.

Firefighters and police also stopped an effort Thursday to burn down the city's main Christmas tree, which was replaced this week after being torched in riots.

Latest outbreak of violence
Thursday's clashes were the latest outbreak of violence over the fatal police shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos on Dec. 6. The riots have also been fueled by dissatisfaction with Greece's increasingly unpopular conservative government.

More than 200 youths took part in running battles with police Thursday in Athens. They also set fire to a private security van and set up a burning barricade after smashing a cafe storefront, and dragging out and setting fire to its furniture. Downtown streets were littered with smashed paving stones and marble blocks.

Before the violence broke out, some 7,000 students and other protesters marched in a rally, chanting "We are the law, we'll stay on the streets." As they passed, fearful business owners shuttered their shops. Some demonstrators painted white crime-scene-style body outlines on the streets.

Earlier in the day, some 1,000 demonstrators joined a peaceful Communist Party-backed march through the city. Some 300 people also marched in Greece's second largest city of Thessaloniki.

Labor protests
While sporadic rallies have been held in Europe in support of the Greek protesters, none were reported Thursday.

Major labor unions staged work stoppages Thursday to protest the teenager's shooting and the conservative government's economic policies.

Air traffic controllers walked off the job for three hours, forcing state Olympic Airlines to cancel 28 flights and reschedule another 14. State hospitals were operating with skeleton staff in a 24-hour strike.

The government appealed for calm after another teenager was shot in the hand late Wednesday near his school. It was unclear who shot him.

Police spokesman Panayiotis Stathis said no officers were in the area at the time of the attack, and Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos promised a thorough investigation. The boy underwent surgery Thursday.

The policeman who shot Grigoropoulos has been charged with murder and jailed pending trial, while his partner was charged as an accomplice. He said he fired a warning shot in self-defense against a group of youths but the family's lawyer said he aimed to kill without significant provocation.

More on Greece | Alexandros Grigoropoulos

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