Athens smoulders after protests

2012-02-13 13:03
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Riots set Athens on fire

Rioting spread across central Athens and buildings went up in flames amid mass protests, as lawmakers prepared to vote for a crucial debt deal needed to prevent bankruptcy in Greece.

Athens - Neo-classical buildings and shopfronts in the Greek capital bore the smouldering scars on Monday of the flames and fury that erupted during street protests against tough new budget cuts.

Some buildings were in smoking ruins, shop windows gaped where the glass was smashed, and steel shutters on commercial premises bore twisted witness to rampaging violence that gripped central Athens on Sunday.

According to official figures, 45 buildings were wholly or partly destroyed by fire as violence erupted during demonstrations while parliament voted through the tough new austerity measures aimed at averting national bankruptcy.

Rioters attacked "emblematic buildings, about 10 neo-classical edifices", dating from the beginning of the 20th century, the deputy mayor in charge of maintenance Andreas Varelas said.

Two historic cinemas were gutted by fire.

"I am ashamed, it's hooliganism," lamented one of Sunday's demonstrators, a 55-year-old security guard who gave her name only as Melpo, standing outside one of the ruined buildings.

Reminder of 2008 riot

Athenians on their way to work were shocked at the extent of the damage inflicted on their city during the running street battles between rioters and police.

"It's a reminder of December 2008," Varelas said, in reference to nearly a month of urban violence in Athens sparked after a youth was killed by a policeman.

The health ministry said 54 civilians had been hurt while police said 68 members of the force had suffered injuries on Sunday.

Municipal workers were on Monday clearing up the debris of marble ripped up from the pavements and hurled by rioters. Rubbish bins smoked and everywhere near the centre, in the tourist area of Monastiraki and chic streets of the Kolonaki quarter, the ground was littered with shattered glass.

"We could have hoped for a better response by the police," Varelas said.

67 arrests

Several newspapers called for the minister in charge to resign.

Police say they made 67 arrests. A police source said those behind the violence had operated for hours in small, highly mobile and highly organised gangs.

About 80 000 people took to the streets on Sunday to protest at the austerity measures, according to police estimates, while media reports said the number was almost double that.

The new budget cuts were required by the European Union and International Monetary Fund as the price of a second €130bn debt rescue to avert imminent bankruptcy and keep the Greece in the eurozone.

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