General strike begins in Greece

Long-planned protest adds to tension after four days of riots in Athens and other cities.

    The authorities are braced for more violence as unions stage a nationwide strike on Wednesday [AFP]

    However, groups of youths continued to be holed up in a university building where officers have no access due to a tradition of university asylum.

    Potential flashpoint

    Nicole Itano, Al Jazera's correspondent in Athens, said: "Things have calmed down for the moment ... but people are expecting this rally later today to be another flashpoint.

    "Because over the past few days, any time large numbers of people have gathered to protest, or even at the boy's funeral yesterday, they have generally started out peacefully but have quickly degenerated into violence, into clashes with police."

    She said that the government had appealed to the union to put off the strike - which had been planned weeks in advance - in view of the riots. However, the union rejected this request, saying they would only scale back the protest.

    "There is a very strong police presence particularly in the city centre right now."

    Raw nerve

    Protesters clashed with police guarding the Greek parliament on Tuesday as thousands attended the funeral of Alexandros Grigoropoulos elsewhere in the capital.

    The 15-year-old boy's shooting death on Saturday triggered the most violent riots in the country in a quarter century which have dealt a major blow to the country's increasingly unpopular conservative government.

    Hundreds of demonstrators threw petrol bombs and other projectiles at the police on Tuesday, before riot police charged to push them back towards Syntagma square in Athens.

    Trials of the Greeks

    1974 - Student uprising leads to the end of seven years of brutal military dictatorship. Police banned from entering university campuses.

    1981 - A socialist government comes to power, rules for 23 years.

    2004 - Conservative leader Costas Karamanlis elected. His administration becomes increasingly unpopular, for its handling of the 2007 deadly summer fires, a land-swap scandal and growing dissatisfaction with social and economic reforms.

    The central square had been the scene of violence on Monday night when rioters torched shops, government ministries and banks.

    The killing of Grigoropoulos has touched a raw nerve among young Greeks, angry at years of political scandals and rising levels of poverty and unemployment, worsened by the global economic downturn.

    Stathis, the police spokesman, said 89 people had been arrested for attacks on police, vandalism and looting since the violence began.

    Another 79 people had been detained for questioning over the riots in which dozens of police officers have been injured.

    At Grigoropoulos's funeral at the municipal cemetery of Palio Faliro, a residential suburb in southern Athens, some groups shouted anti-police slogans but it was mainly calm after a request from the family that respect be shown for the dead teenager.

    Earlier, Karolos Papoulias, Greece's president, had appealed for calm, calling on Greeks to "honour Alexis' memory peacefully".

    "This is a day of mourning for us all ... but there must be respect for institutions and laws," Papoulias said in a statement.

    Officers charged

    Two officers have been charged over the shooting - one with premeditated manslaughter and the illegal use of a weapon and the other as an accomplice.

    They are due to appear before a court on Wednesday and both have been suspended - along with the Exarchia precinct police chief.

    Protesters threw fiery projectiles at the
    police outside parliament [AFP]

    Demonstrations and violence played out in similar ways in other cities across the country as George Papandreou, the Socialist opposition leader, demanded that the conservative government step down and call elections to help end the violence.

    Addressing his parliamentary group on Tuesday, Papandreou said: "We claim power. The only thing this government can offer is to resign and turn to the people for its verdict."

    Costas Karamanlis, Greece's prime minister, has vowed to end the country's worst unrest in decades, but a government spokesman denied reports that the government planned to declare martial law.

    Labour unions rejected an appeal by Karamanlis on Tuesday to cancel Wednesday's strike.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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