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Almost one year ago 15 year old high school student Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot in cold blood by a police officer in the Exarchia district of central Athens. The authorities originally claimed that Grigoropoulos had been part of a gang that had attacked a passing patrol car with bricks and bottles and that the officers had fired a warning shot which ricocheted, fatally wounding the teenager. However, several eyewitness accounts and video recorded on a resident's mobile phone quickly cast doubts on the official account.
In the hours, days and weeks that followed thousands took to streets and clashed with riot police repeatedly leaving much of central Athens and Thessaloniki resembling a war zone. In addition disturbances spread across the country affecting small towns and islands. The ferocity of the protests took the government and law authorities by surprise, and for the first few days the police were at a loss to control the situation. Faced by the worst civil disturbances in a generation law and order broke down as government offices, banks, stores belonging to multi-nationals and even police stations were torched.
It seemed that for many Greeks, especially those under 25 the situation in the country had become unbearable. Seething resentment over a government mired in scandal, raising unemployment, a shrinking economy and the perception that the police were above the law all combined to form an explosive mix which blew up last December and lasted for weeks.
Although the previous New Democracy government has been replaced by a left wing PASOK one, the legacy of massive public, corruption and nepotism the conservatives left as a legacy means that prime minister, Giorgos Papandreou is faced with the unenviable choice of either letting the country go bankrupt or implementing painful austerity measures which will make a mockery of the party's campaign pledges. Already the failure of Dubai to reschedule repayments on its $60 billion debt has pushed up the cost of Greece's public lending whilst the European Union has demanded that the country subject its public finances to EU oversight following the massive under reporting of debt the previous administration led by Constantinos Karamanlis.
Since December 2008 Greece has also seen a resurgence in domestic terrorism with a number of bomb and machine gun attacks on police officers and other high visibility targets. As well as the more spectacular incidents every week other smaller attacks take place on an almost daily basis as an undeclared war is waged between the far right groups and leftists. In the face of this the possibility that the anniversary of Alexandros Grigoropoulos's death will be marked peacefully grows ever more remote.
For pictures of what happened on the 6th December 2008 click here.