Saturday, November 28, 2009

Greece braces for trouble one year after uprising

Greek riot police about to go into action against high school students in Thessaloniki

On the evening of December 6th Alexandros Grigoropoulos, a 15 year old high school student was shot dead by police in the central Exarchia neighbourhood, Athens. The death was to spark riots and protests throughout the whole of Greece and lead to billions of euros in damages. Whilst clashes between Greeks and the police were fiercest in the country's two largest cities fighting soon spread to even small towns and islands as outraged young people fought with the authorities and attacked shops and offices.

One year on the first anniversary of the shooting many fear that next month will see a re-run of last year's events which took the government completely by surprise and left much of central Athens and Thessaloniki looking like a war zone with burnt out cars and flaming building filling the nightly news bulletins.

Despite the crushing defeat of the previous conservative New Democracy administration in last October's parliamentary elections, the social problems which led to Greece's worst civil disturbances in 40 years have not gone away. Indeed given the deepening recession, the issues of unemployment, deep rooted social inequalities and a lack of hope for the future are even more entrenched than in 2008.

Similarly, Greece's controversial police force appears to have learnt few of the lessons of December and have continued to be dogged by allegations of violence and human rights abuses by international organisations such as Amnesty International.

In addition heavy handed policing tactics during the recent marches for the annual 17th November memorial seems to indicate that the police are ready to take on any challenges to their power and so avoid a repeat of last year's situation where many neighbourhoods became no go areas.

The series of terrorist attacks on police stations and officers plus weekly incidents of bomb attacks on government targets and leftist organisations means that the scene is being set for a showdown between the those unhappy with the present political system and the forces of law and order.

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