Greek-inspired demonstrations spread

Image: Demonstration outside the Greek embassy
A Bulgarian man holds a picture of Greek teenager Alexandros Grigoropoulos as some 50 protesters rally outside the Greek embassy building during a demonstration in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Wednesday.Vassil Donev / EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

Unrest that has gripped Greece for the past six days showed troubling signs of spreading across Europe, as violence erupted in several cities.

Angry youths smashed shop windows, attacked banks and hurled bottles at police in small but violent protests Thursday in Spain and Denmark, while cars were set alight outside a consulate in France. Protesters gathered in front of the Greek Embassy in Rome on Wednesday and some turned violent, damaging police vehicles, overturning a car and setting a trash can on fire.

Authorities say the incidents have been isolated so far, but acknowledge concern that the Greek riots — which started over the police killing of a 15-year-old on Saturday — could be a trigger for anti-globalization groups and others outraged by economic turmoil and a lack of job opportunities.

"What's happening in Greece tends to prove that the extreme left exists, contrary to doubts of some over these past few weeks," French Interior Ministry spokesman Gerard Gachet said. "For the moment, we can't go farther with our conclusions and say that there's a danger of contagion of the Greek situation into France. All of that is being watched."

Unemployment rising across Europe
As Europe plunges into recession, unemployment is rising, particularly among the young. Even before the crisis, European youths complained about difficulty finding well paid jobs — even with a college degree — and many said they felt left out as the continent grew in prosperity.

At least some of the protests appear to have been organized over the Internet, showing how quickly a message can be spread, particularly among tech-savvy youth. One Web site that Greek protesters have been using to update each other claims there have been sympathy protests in nearly 20 countries.

"We're encouraging nonviolent action here and abroad," said Konstantinos Sakkas, a 23-year-old protester at the Athens Polytechnic, where many of the demonstrators are based. "What these are abroad are spontaneous expressions of solidarity with what's going on here."

In Denmark, protesters pelted riot police with bottles and paint in downtown Copenhagen at a rally late Wednesday. Some 63 people were detained and later released.

And in Spain, angry youths attacked banks, shops and a police station in separate demonstrations in Madrid and Barcelona late Wednesday that each drew about 200 people.

Some of the protesters chanted "police killers" and other slogans. Eleven people — including a Greek girl — were arrested at the two rallies, and two police officers were lightly injured.

The Barcelona daily La Vanguardia said the protests had been convened over the Internet.

A host of challenges in Spain
Daniel Lostao, president of the state-financed Youth Council, an umbrella organization of Spanish youth groups, said young people in Spain face daunting challenges — soaring unemployment, low salaries and difficulty in leaving the family nest because of expensive housing.

Students hold a coffin that reads 'public university' as they occupy the Office of the Dean of Complutense University, one of Spain's biggest, in Madrid on Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008. The students occupied the building peacefully and vow to stay indefinitely. They protest against the Bologna Process, an ongoing European education reform process that is transforming Spain's university system into shorter degrees, paid masters and financing from the private sector. Similar demonstration have taken place in other parts of Spain including Barcelona and Valencia.(AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)Victor R. Caivano / AP

Still, he said he doubted the protests in Spain would grow.

"We do not have the feeling that this is going to spread," Lostao said. "Let's hope I am not wrong."

In France, protesters set fire to two cars and a garbage can apparently stuffed with flammable material outside the Greek consulate in Bordeaux early Thursday and scrawled graffiti on the building threatening more unrest, Michel Corfias, the Greek consul, told The Associated Press.

"It was a very, very intense fire," Corfias said, adding that it severely damaged the building's front door.

Graffiti sprayed on the consulate's garage door read "solidarity with the fires in Greece, the insurrection to come," he said, and the word "insurrection" was painted on the doors of neighboring houses.

Youths unhappy with globalization
Corfias said police suspect the attack is linked to events in Greece, and that it might have been carried out by youths unhappy with globalization and economic difficulties in France.

"The events in Greece are a pretext, in my opinion," he said. "The events in Greece are a trigger."

Elsewhere in Europe, more than 15 people occupied a Greek consulate in Berlin on Monday, hanging a banner out the window with the dead Greek teenager's name and the words, "Killed by the State." Youths clad in black appeared occasionally at a consulate balcony, exchanging chants with more than 50 protesters gathered on the street below.

About 100 people protested outside the Greek consulate in Frankfurt on Tuesday evening and minor violence was reported on the peripheries of the demonstration, including the breaking of a bank's window.

Violence still ongoing in Greece
Meanwhile, discontent in Greece showed no signs of abating on Thursday. Students pelted police stations with rocks and pledged to stay on the streets as protesters turned their rage over the police killing of a teenager into a wider rebellion against economic hardship.

Demonstrators also overturned cars and blocked streets in central Athens, but the country was largely spared the extreme violence that has characterized the five days since police shot and killed 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos. In Athens, demonstrators vowed to dig in, planning more rallies to vent anger over economic hardship exacerbated by the global financial crisis.

"What started as an outburst of rage over Alexandros' killing is now becoming a more organized form of protest," said Petros Constantinou, an organizer with the Socialist Workers Party.

Protesters began handing out fliers listing their demands, which include having riot police pulled from the streets and the reversal of public spending cuts that have heightened insecurity over jobs.

The demonstrators have also begun adopting opposition demands for more financial relief for low-income Greeks. Greece's minimum wage is euro658 ($850) per month.

Trouble for prime minister
The broadening discontent spells trouble for conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' government, which has just only a one-seat majority in parliament. Even before the worst rioting in decades, his popularity was suffering amid financial scandals and unpopular economic and social reforms.

"We demand accountability, that this government resigns, and that this farce comes to an end," said 28-year-old Spyros Potamias, an architecture student at the Athens Polytechnic, where rioters have hunkered down and taken advantage of Greek law forbidding police from entering campuses.

Opposition parties are demanding Karamanlis resign and call early elections, arguing that his policies generated a social crisis that fueled riots and that police left Greece's cities defenseless.