Clashes break out in Athens over injured protester

May 12, 2011 - 1:59 PM
Greece Financial Crisis

Protesters lay on the street after clashes with riot police during a 24-hour strike in Athens, Wednesday, May 11, 2011. Riot police made heavy use of tear gas and stun grenades to disperse youths throwing stones and petrol bombs during a march attended by 20,000 people to protest the Greek government's harsh austerity measures.(AP Photo/ Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Demonstrators furious at the severe injury of a protester during an anti-austerity march clashed with riot police in central Athens on Thursday, the second day of violence in the Greek capital.

Hooded youths used hammers to smash up marble and paving stones from building facades and pavements, hurling the jagged chunks and firebombs at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades. Running battles with police ensued through the streets of central Athens, with protesters setting trash bins on fire and one burning a Greek flag.

The clashes broke out during a demonstration by about 5,000 protesters from left-wing groups and unions amid condemnations of alleged police brutality over the wounding of a 31-year-old man in Wednesday's protest against the government's austerity measures.

Greek authorities have often been accused of using heavy-handed tactics against protesters or immigrants. The fatal police shooting of a teenager in Athens in 2008 provoked two weeks of rioting that left hundreds of shops damaged.

"The government bears full responsibility for the brutal and unprovoked homicidal attack," the Synaspismos left-wing coalition said.

The country's largest labor union, the GSEE, also issued a statement condemning "acts of police violence and the severe injury of protesters" at the rally, during Wednesday's countrywide general strike.

The government has expressed sorrow at the protester's injuries and promised a full investigation.

Police spokesman Athanassios Kokalakis conceded that some officers "display an exaggerated response, and they will be identified and dealt with."

Wednesday's clashes between petrol bomb- and stone-throwing anarchists and riot police broke out during an otherwise peaceful march by some 20,000 people protesting the Socialist government's painful austerity measures.

Greece has been grappling with a severe financial crisis for more than a year and was rescued from bankruptcy by a euro110 billion international bailout package last May. In return, the government imposed strict austerity measures, including cutting public sector salaries, freezing pensions and increasing taxes.

Wednesday's protest, which came during a nationwide general strike, degenerated into violence. More than two dozen people were injured, including a man who suffered severe head injuries and is listed in critical condition in an Athens hospital after undergoing brain surgery.

Ahead of the protest, a group of youths occupied the central Athens University building from where the march started, replacing the Greek flag with an anarchist banner. A large black banner underneath read: "Murderers."

Authorities said two undercover police who were checking identities near the Athens Academy before the demonstration were beaten, and one had his gun stolen. Police said the weapon was later recovered.