Riots and antigovernment protests shake Greek administration

Violent clashes between riot police and anarchists as well as anti-government attacks this week have severely shaken the Socialist government of Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. Mr. Papandreou, reelected to a second four-year term only six months ago, was already under attack since imposing tough austerity measures last month.

The conservative opposition parties and the pro-Moscow Communist Party have joined forces to use the unpopular austerity program as the focus of their attacks on government. The prime minister denounced the alliance between the two parties as an effort to create the kind of chaos that resulted in the 1967-1974 dictatorship in Greece.

This week's violence has deepened the sense of malaise in the capital. Disturbances began Sunday after a peaceful march by over 100,000 Greeks to commemorate a student uprising in 1973 that led to the collapse of the dictatorship. Toward the end of the march, small bands of anarchists separated from the crowd and began rampaging through the streets.

Violence between police and the anarchists is relatively frequent here. Sunday's incident only became a major crisis when a police officer under attack by firebomb-throwing demonstrators shot into the crowd, killing a 15-year-old boy.

The shooting triggered further violence, culminating in the occupation of the Athens Polytechnic -- the site of the 1973 uprising -- by about 1,000 demonstrators Monday evening. An uneasy truce reigned yesterday, as students shouted demands over loudspeakers from inside the buildings, which were surrounded by riot police. At press time, it was unclear how the standoff would end.

Papandreou condemned the killing, and promised that ``appropriate sanctions'' would be imposed on those responsible. The policeman responsible has been charged with manslaughter. Papandreou refused to accept the resignations of Interior Minister Agamemnon Koutsogieorgias and Minister for Public Order Athanasois Tsouras.

The Communist Party and other leftists have used the situation to vent their frustration over what they consider the govnernment's righward turn. Papandreou has also recently begun to improve relations with the United States and the European Community.

The government is trying to use restraint, as it does not want to be seen using undue force against leftists -- with whom many rank-and-file members of Papandreou's own party sympathize. But with the unpopularity of the austerity program and opposition attacks unlikely to abate, these clashes can only, according to observers, make the long, cold winter of discontent ahead even more glacial.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.