Monday, September 12, 2011

Greek riot police clash with anti-government protesters outside Thessaloniki trade fair

The Thessaloniki international trade fair, or Helexpo as it is known locally has traditionally been the chance for the country to present its best face to the outside world.

However, this year's event was overshadowed by violent anti- government protests organised by groups as disparate as taxi drives and doctors, football fans and soccer moms, all angry with austerity measures which have crippled the economy and brought about a financial downturn unprecedented in modern Greek history.

Prime minister. Girogos Papandreou gave is annual speech at the fair, the nearest thing Greece as to a state of the union address from behind a security cordon manned by 10-12,000 riot police armed with shields, tear gas and pistols.

No way to treat a visitor. Protesters help foreign visitor overcome by tear gas outside Thessaloniki trade fair

The centre of Greece's second largest city of 1,2 million inhabitants was sealed off for one kilometre around the Vellidiou conference centre where the prime minister was scheduled to speak.

In the end the most violent protests came not from the city's large student population or anarchists but rather taxi drivers outraged by government reform measures. For over an hour thousands of driver fought with riot police units outside the trade fair.

Round of tear gas fired by the police were met with a hail of broken paving stones and several times forced them to retreat to the relative safety of the fair.

To add to the authorities woes thousands of football fans also clashed with police units in the centre as the local Iraklis FC supporters smashed shop windows and set fire to rubbish bins along the main Tsimiski Boulevard.

Clashes between students and police around the Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki which borders the trade fair also lasted into the small hours of the morning.

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