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Greek police in teen death ordered jailed

Image: A Greek youth kicks a tear gas away during clashes with riot police
A youth kicks a tear gas canister during clashes with riot police in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens on Wednesday.Aris Messinis / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Greek court ordered Wednesday that two policemen be held in jail pending their trial for a teenage boy’s fatal shooting — a death that has sparked five days of intensive riots in cities across the country.

One officer has been charged with murder for allegedly shooting dead 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in a confrontation Saturday in Athens. The other has been charged as an accomplice to murder. No trial date has been set.

Earlier, protesters attacked Athens’ main courthouse with firebombs during a hearing for the two officers. Riot police responded by firing tear gas, and at least two people were injured.

Police whisked the two officers out of a side entrance at the court and drove off in a convoy.

Riot police and youths also clashed in downtown Athens during a demonstration by more than 10,000 people against the government’s economic policies.

Workers strike
Greece’s two largest labor unions organized the protest, along with a national strike Wednesday that shut down schools, public services, hospitals and flights, increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’ fragile conservative government.

“This country is not being governed,” Socialist party member Evangelos Venizelos said in Parliament. “There is no way Mr. Karamanlis can come back from this.”

The policemen’s lawyer, Alexis Cougias, told reporters that a ballistics examination showed that the teen was killed by a ricochet and not a direct shot. One officer said he had fired warning shots but did not shoot directly at the boy.

“Because he fired in the air to save his life, as a result of this accident ... he faces family and personal ruin,” Cougias said of the officer.

He said he had been told about the ballistics report by authorities. There was no comment from prosecutors, who do not make public statements on pending cases.

Amnesty International has accused Greek police of heavy-handed tactics against protesters.

Karamanlis’ government has faced growing opposition to pension reforms, privatizations, and the loosening of state control on higher education, which many students fear will undermine their degrees.

Support for the government has sunk as gangs of youths marauded through cities since Saturday, torching businesses, looting shops and placing burning barricades across streets.

After running battles, Athens quiet
The clashes in Athens escalated Wednesday into running battles through the city center, with masked youths pelting police with rocks, bottles and marble blocks from the Athens metro station. The youths shattered windows newly replaced after four nights of rioting.

“The government wanted us to postpone this protest, but they are the ones who have to do something to stop this violence and to improve the quality of our lives,” said protester Kalypso Synenoglou, a drama student.

“There is no state, we are the state,” said protester Margaritis Korobanidis. “All these people in (Parliament) must leave. The protests will not stop anytime soon.”

High-school students chanting “Cops! Pigs! Murderers!” cheered each time a riot policeman was hit by a rock. At least one person was hurt.

By late Wednesday, Athens was generally peaceful. There was sporadic rioting in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Storeowners have accused authorities of leaving their businesses unprotected as rioters smashed and burned their way through popular shopping districts. More than 400 Athens stores have been damaged.

Karamanlis pledged Wednesday to fully compensate shopowners for the damage, with immediate cash assistance and favorable loans.

Poll: Majority says crisis mishandled
“The government is determined to establish a sense of public safety and support for all the businesses that require assistance, to help them get back on their feet,” he said.

But the prime minister has ignored calls for him to resign and call early elections.

An opinion poll for the conservative daily Kathimerini published Wednesday found 68 percent of Greeks believe the government mishandled the crisis. Only 18 percent approved. The Public Issues survey was based on 478 people questioned Monday and Tuesday and had a 4.5 percent margin of error.

The riots also prompted attacks on Greek diplomatic offices abroad.

In neighboring Turkey, unknown assailants hurled red paint at the main gate of the Greek consulate in Istanbul late Wednesday, while in New York, a man threw a brick at the Greek consulate in Manhattan and sprayed graffiti before fleeing.