Protests erupt in Greece over teenager’s shooting in police chase

Police officer allegedly shoots a 16-year-old Roma in the head after he drives away from a petrol station without paying.

Protesters hold a banner which reads in Greek "they shot them because they were Roma" as they protest the shooting in the head of a 16-year-old youth, in central Athens Monday Dec 5, 2022. A police officer has been arrested in northern Greece after a 16-year-old boy was shot in the head and seriously injured during a car chase after he allegedly failed to pay the bill at a gas station(AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)
Protesters hold a banner, reading in Greek: 'They shot them because they were Roma' [Michael Varaklas/AP]

Violent protests have broken out in Greece’s second-largest city over the police shooting of a Roma boy after he allegedly filled his vehicle at a petrol station and drove off without paying.

The 16-year-old was being treated in critical condition at a Thessaloniki hospital. The officer who allegedly shot him in the head was arrested and suspended from duty, police in the northern city said.

The Greek police department said the youth had tried to ram officers in pursuit on motorbikes in his attempt to evade arrest.

About 1,500 people took part in a protest march organised by left-wing and anarchist groups in central Thessaloniki on Monday night.

Some smashed shops and threw Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Police detained six people after the end of the march. Before that protest, about 100 Roma men set up barricades, blocking the main road outside the hospital where the boy was being treated, and set fire to rubbish cans.

Police had used stun grenades and tear gas earlier to disperse protesters throwing bottles at them outside the hospital.

Several hundred people also took part in a peaceful protest march in central Athens over the teen’s shooting as well as a past incident in which a Roma man also was shot during a police chase.

The demonstrators in Greece’s capital had a banner reading: “They shot them because they were Roma.”

Brief clashes broke out with police after the protest ended.

People blocking a main road set fire to rubbish bins outside the Ippokrateio General Hospital, in Greece's second largest city of Thessaloniki, on Monday, Dec 5, 2022. Dozens of Roma men protested Monday outside a hospital in northern Greece where a Roma teenager was being treated in critical condition, having been shot by police in a road chase after he allegedly drove off from a gas station without paying. (AP Photo/Dimitris Tosidis)
Protesters block the main road and set fire to rubbish bins outside the Ippokrateio General Hospital in Thessaloniki [Dimitris Tosidis/AP Photo]

Earlier in the day, protesters and members of the teenager’s family had thrown rocks at riot police outside the hospital where the boy is receiving treatment before police responded by firing tear gas.

Members of the Roma community in Greece and human rights activists frequently accuse Greek authorities of discriminating against Roma.

Previous violence

Several Roma men have been fatally shot or injured in recent years during confrontations with police while allegedly seeking to evade arrest for breaches of the law.

The youth injured on Monday was not named but was identified by relatives as a member of the Roma minority.

Police said the 34-year-old officer arrested on suspicion of shooting the teenager was suspended and an internal investigation was under way. The incident occurred outside Thessaloniki before dawn on Monday.

Officers from a motorcycle patrol chased the teenager’s pickup truck after a petrol station employee reported an unpaid bill of 20 euros ($21).

In a statement, police said officers had fired two bullets to try and stop him from attempting to hit police motorbikes.

It said the driver of the pick-up truck had “repeatedly made dangerous manoeuvres” and drove through red lights before the shots were fired.

After the shots were fired, the driver had lost control, hit a wall and was “transported to the hospital with serious injuries”, police said.

Protesters shout slogans as they demonstrate following the shooting of a 16-year old Roma by police, in Thessaloniki, Greece, December 5, 2022. REUTERS/Alexandros Avramidis
Protesters shout slogans as they demonstrate in Thessaloniki [Alexandros Avramidis/Reuters]

The arrested officer appeared in court on Tuesday on charges of attempted manslaughter.

He asked for and was granted more time to prepare his defence, as is common in the Greek justice system, before he appears before an investigating magistrate.

Asked to comment on the shooting, government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said: “The value of a human life can never be measured by any amount of money.”

A spokesman for Greece’s main opposition left-wing Syriza party accused the centre-right government of failing to keep excessive policing methods in check.

“Society can no longer tolerate this climate of fear created by extreme police brutality which, for trivial reasons, has threatened the life of an underage 16-year-old child,” said Christos Spirtzis, the party spokesman for public order.

Another Roma youth was killed in 2021 near the port of Piraeus, also in a police pursuit.

The shooting occurred on the eve of annual protests in Greek cities to mark the fatal 2008 police shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens, whose death triggered the worst riots in recent Greek history that lasted for weeks and caused extensive damage to private and public property.

Anniversary protests held since the shooting have often led to violent clashes between protesters and riot police.

Source: News Agencies