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Anarchists' fury fuels Greek riots

An uneasy truce between anarchists and police was shattered following a weekend shooting of a teen. A similar event in 1985 sparked months of daily clashes.

By Nicole ItanoCorrespondent / December 8, 2008

Greece riots: Protesters in Thessaloniki threw a chair and fire bombs toward police during a series of protests that left dozens injured and scores of buildings damaged.

Nikolas Giakoumidis/AP

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Athens

Greece's worst rioting in years erupted late Saturday night after an Athens policeman shot and killed a teenage boy in a central neighborhood known as the base of anarchist and other antiestablishment groups.

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By Sunday morning, with the riots continuing, a trail of devastation had been blazed across central Athens – with the stench of tear gas and smoke from charred vehicles and buildings hanging over parts of the ancient city. The violence quickly spread to other parts of the country, including Greece's second-city, Thessaloniki, and the vacation islands of Crete and Corfu.

The shooting and its violent aftermath threatens to escalate a decades-long conflict that has simmered between police and far-left groups. The conservative government, which was already struggling to stay in power in the wake of a recent land-exchange scandal, attempted to calm the rioters by arresting the two police officers connected with the shooting.

The fatal shooting took place in the Athens neighborhood of Exarchia, a dense warren of concrete apartment buildings home to a mix of students and anarchists. Clashes between police and radicals are common in the neighborhood.

Anarchist groups frequently set off small bombs throughout the city – on Wednesday alone a bomb damaged the offices of the French news service Agence France Presse and arsonists torched a Bosnian embassy car and a bank cash machine.

Brady Kiesling, a former US diplomat, who is writing a book about the Greek militant group November 17, says Greek police have limited power to use force against these groups because public sentiment will not tolerate it. This has resulted in a delicate balance in Exarchia, with neither pushing the other too far. Many Greeks cite the events of November 17, 1973 – a day that is still commemorated, when the army stormed the Athens Polytechnic University and killed a number of striking students – as a reason why the police must be restricted.

"The police stay out of certain areas, unless there's a major emergency, and the anarchists don't trash things badly unless there's a good reason," Mr. Kiesling says. But "once someone gets killed, the doctrine is massive retaliation."

Details of the shooting are disputed, but police issued a statement saying the two officers had been attacked by a group of youths. One officer threw a stun grenade while the other responded with three shots. At least one bullet hit the boy, reported to be 15 or 16. According to police, he died on the way to the hospital.

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