Greek protesters clash with riot police in Athens

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek youths hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at riot police in Athens on Friday, who responded with stun grenades and tear gas. Despite seven straight days of unrest, Greece's prime minister rebuffed calls to resign and hold early elections.

Terrified workers in banks along Athens' central Syntagma Square watched in fear as protesters shattered windows just replaced days ago after being damaged in the worst riots Greece has experienced in decades.

Protesters also smashed their way into the main branch of the National Bank of Greece, sending employees fleeing in panic Friday. One protester walked up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Parliament and threw a black-and-red anarchist flag at it.

The riots broke out within hours of the police shooting death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos death last Saturday, and have since expanded to encompass general anger over economic hardship. Hundreds of stores and dozens of cars have been destroyed or damaged in cities across the country.

The violence has hammered Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' increasingly conservative government, which already faced vociferous opposition to economic and social reforms.

Karamanlis, whose party has only a single seat majority in parliament, explicitly rejected mounting calls for him to resign and call early elections, saying Friday that the country needed a steady hand in times of crisis.

"That is my concern and the concern and the priority of the government, and not scenarios about elections and successions," Karamanlis said in Brussels, where he was attending an European Union leaders meeting on climate change.

Protesters, occupying high schools and universities, are demanding a reversal of public spending cuts, the resignation of the country's Interior Minister, and the release from custody of arrested riot suspects.

About 100 people have been arrested during the riots and 70 injured.

Authorities said protesters also briefly occupied a private Athens radio station on Friday and read a statement on the air. A municipal building in the northwestern city of Ioannina were also occupied.

"What started as an outburst of rage over Alexandros' killing is now becoming a more organized form of protest," said Petros Constantinou, an organizer with the Socialist Workers Party.

The two police officers involved in the shooting have been jailed pending trial, one for murder and the other as an accomplice. They claim they had been attacked by a group of youths and that one of the officers had fired warning shots, but witnesses have disputed the claim.

The officers' defense lawyer, Alexis Cougias, has said ballistics testing of the bullet that killed Grigoropoulos showed it had ricocheted. The ballistics report has not been released.

Deputy Minister for Public Order Panayiotis Chinofotis said Friday that police would review their firearms policy.

"I have no objection to a major review ... of the (police) use of firearms," he said in Parliament. "We must be realistic, this is a situation that has requires extensive study and not political exploitation."

The unrest has also spilled over into other European cities, raising concerns the clashes could be a trigger for opponents of globalization, disaffected youth and others outraged by the continent's economic turmoil and soaring unemployment.

Students and other protest groups say they will hold daily marches and roadblocks in the capital next week.

Despite the rioting, Justice Ministry officials said Friday the government will proceed with plans to release some 5,000 inmates, or about 40 percent of Greece's prison population, starting this month. That move follows a mass hunger strike staged by inmates last month to protest overcrowding.


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