1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Greek Unrest

DW staff (th)
December 10, 2008

A long-planned general strike by Greece's two largest unions could not come at a worse time for the country's embattled conservative government as students continued to riot in the streets.

High school students clash with riot police outside the Greek parliament building
Protestors have shown they are unwilling to back downImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The outrage of young Greeks over the fatal weekend police shooting of a teenager continued on Wednesday, Dec. 10. Protestors threw firebombs at a line of 100 riot police in front of the Greek parliament building in Athens Wednesday morning, according to media reports.

Police officers beat their shields and shouted as demonstrators also tossed pavement slabs, tangerines, water bottles and a flare which landed on a police van, AFP news agency reported.

Controversy over the killing seems unlikely to end soon. Initial results of an autopsy done on the teenager whose killing sparked the violence show that the teenager, Alexis Grigoropoulos, died from a bullet ricochet, a court source said Wednesday.

The news came as two police officers implicated in the fatal shooting went before a magistrate. Preliminary results from an autopsy conducted on 15-year-eold Alexis Grigoropoulos show the boy died from a bullet ricochet, court sources said Wednesday.

The bullet "is a bit deformed, which showed the bullet touched a hard surface" before killing the teenager, experts hired by the boy's family told the court.

Overnight, clashes were reported in Athens and the northern town of Salonika before quieting down in the early morning hours, according to state radio. About 120 protesters remain barricaded in Athens Polytechnic University as well as buildings housing the law and philosophy departments. They continued to fight police until around 2 a.m. local time.

More than 100 protestors have been arrested, according to Athens police. Reports said rioters have damaged or destroyed more than 250 stores and 70 banks in Athens, while 25 buildings were damaged by fires. Another 100 stores were damaged in Thessaloniki. Damage is estimated in the millions of euros.

Union protests go ahead

Protestors sit with banners depicting guns
The police shooting has sparked protests, both peaceful and violentImage: AP

Despite pleas from Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to cancel the general strike, Greece's two largest unions went ahead with planned 24-hour strikes Wednesday to protest the government's austere economic policies.

The prime minister said he feared a nationwide strike could fuel more large-scale rioting, triggered by the weekend shooting. Due to the tense situation, the unions said they would limit their rallies to certain locations and cancelled plans for demonstrating in Athens' streets, Greek state radio said.

The strike will shut the nation's airports, although there were no stranded travelers since airlines had refused to take bookings for the days affected, according to news reports. Schools and government offices were also scheduled to close.

The unions are protesting the government's recent pension reforms, which raise the retirement age and cut back on benefits. The unions are also upset about recent labor reforms, privatizations and tax measures.

However, unions announced that because of the rioting they will cancel plans for rallies in Athens to try and prevent further violence.

Government resignation?

Amid mounting calls for Karamanlis' fragile government to resign over the chaos, the prime minister blamed fighting between protesters and security forces on the "enemies of democracy."

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis
Some have called for Karamanlis to resignImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

"The struggles of workers and the unjust death of a youth cannot be confused with acts of vandalism," Karamanlis said.

The Greek government has a razor-thin majority of a single member in the 300-seat parliament. The ruling party has seen its reputation tarnished by a financial scandal involving property deals.

"The government has lost public confidence," main opposition leader George Papandreou said.

Human rights group critical of police

Amnesty International called for an investigation into the shooting death of Grigoropoulos and criticized "unlawful and disproportionate" police violence.

A vehicle burns outside the Athens University main building in central Athens
Athens University has been a focal point of riotsImage: AP

The human rights group called for a "clear commitment by the authorities to end the unlawful and disproportionate use of force" by officers in Greece.

The funeral for Grigoropoulos was held amid further clashes between youth and police on Tuesday.

The London-based group also accused the police of having acted violently against peaceful demonstrators, saying that two of its members had been beaten with batons by officers.

"Only a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the full circumstances of the shooting can establish the sequence of events and the responsibility for the youth's death," said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia program director.

Skip next section Explore more