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Greece calm after 8 days of riots by youths

Athens was calm Sunday after eight days of the worst riots Greece has seen in decades, sparked by the police killing of a teenager.
APTOPIX Greece Riots
Riot police officers run towards their positions during clashes with protesters in Athens on Saturday.Petros Karadjias / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Athens was calm Sunday after eight days of the worst riots Greece has seen in decades, sparked by the police killing of a teenager.

Traffic returned to normal in the center of town and open-topped double-decker buses carried tourists around the city's main sights. The cafes in the Thissio area under the Acropolis were busy, and couples took their children for Sunday walks.

But Greek youths who have protested daily since the boy's death have vowed to remain on the streets until their concerns are addressed. Protesters are angry not just at police but at a government already on the defensive over a series of financial scandals, and over economic issues.

"We are not in this for the short term," said Petros Constantinou, an organizer with the Socialist Workers Party. "We want the protests to continue after Christmas and New Year, until this government of murderers goes."

Analyst Theodore Couloumbis, however, said he expected the disturbances to "peter out" over the next few days.

"We are going to have periodic flare-ups," said Couloumbis, a professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Athens. "It will take a generation or two to straighten things out in Greece."

Majority believes neither party competent
A newspaper poll published Sunday showed the governing conservatives' popularity at 20.6 percent, 5.6 percent below the main opposition Socialists. However, 55 percent of respondents said neither party seemed competent to handle the situation.

"Political parties initially made things worse because they acted as if it was business as usual ... trying to score political points," Couloumbis said.

The Focus poll of 1,000 people for Real News gave a 3.1 percent margin of error.

Violence has wracked Greece since the death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos Dec. 6. It spread from Athens to more than a dozen other cities. At least 70 people have been injured, hundreds of stores have been looted, and more than 200 people have been arrested.

Late Saturday and early Sunday, youths in Athens attacked a police station, stores and banks, and fought with police as candlelit vigils were held to mark a week since the shooting.

Another vigil was planned for Sunday evening at the site of the shooting but heavy rain made a large gathering unlikely. A separate protest is scheduled for western Athens.

In the northern port of Thessaloniki, a few dozen people held a peaceful protest at noon. Overnight, suspected anarchist arsonists attacked two Communist party offices with homemade gas-canister bombs and molotov cocktails, causing minor damage but no injuries.

While most protesters have been peaceful, the tone of the demonstrations has been set by a violent fringe. And more young people have been willing to join those fringe elements than in the past.

Majority in poll against riots
Couloumbis said the violence appeared to have been caused by "an abysmally insignificant group of destructive elements," whom students joined "for the fun of it."

In a poll released Sunday, 62 percent of respondents said the riots following the shooting were inexcusable, compared to 35 percent who believed the violence was justified. The poll of 1,000 people gave no margin of error.

According to another poll, Greeks see more in the violence than a simple reaction to the shooting. Asked whether the riots were a social uprising, 60 percent said yes. Some 64 percent considered police unprepared for the violence.

The poll of 520 people published in the Kathimerini newspaper gave a 4.5 percent margin of error.

Demonstrations in support of the protests in Greece have been held in several European cities. In Berlin, a peaceful gathering on Sunday at Mauerpark drew about 50 people.

"We're not in favor of violence. We just want to show our support," said Yannis, 27, a Greek man who declined to give his last name. "We're not expecting any violence in Berlin because the circumstances in Greece are very different from those in Germany."