Following the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy, Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a week ago Saturday, there have even been protests on Greek islands like Lesbos, where police used teargas against demonstrators. In Athens alone hundreds of stores have been destroyed and looted, schools have called off classes and universities have canceled lectures. Just a few days before Christmas, "the city has come to a grinding halt," says government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros.
Over the past week, the wave of protests has even spread to Europe's major cities. Sympathizers occupied the Greek consulates in Berlin and London, anarchists rioted out of solidarity in Barcelona, Rome and Copenhagen, and the sense of outrage has even reached New York.
Athens Polytechnic, in the heart of Exarchia, is the focal point of the protests and a place steeped in symbolism for Greek leftists. This is where students barricaded themselves inside university buildings in 1973 to protest against the military junta. When tanks crushed the gates on Nov. 17 and put and end to the leftist uprising, at least 34 young people died and some 800 were injured.
Today's sizeable Black Bloc anarchist movement in the Greek capital strongly identifies with the tradition of those young 1970s rebels. For years, they have been setting fire to police stations, banks and state institutions. "From a statistical perspective, there are attacks like this every day," says a security expert.
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The schoolboy's death has given the Black Bloc anarchists widespread support among the population for the first time -- and has driven the country to the brink of a political crisis. "A young man killed by a police bullet is the worst thing that could happen," admits Antonaros. But he adds that "it has nothing to do with social unrest."
Sure enough, the riots, which continued until the weekend, and particularly the obvious sympathy for the young protesters, are an expression of the Greek people's overwhelming disappointment with their government and political system. The country's political class has been losing credibility for years due to graft, kickbacks and "widespread corruption," says an EU diplomat. Over the past few months, a series of ministers have had to step down in the wake of corruption allegations, most recently the predecessor of government spokesman Antonaros and the mercantile marine minister, both of whom are close associates of conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.
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