Greek Riots Rage For Fourth Day

Correction Dec. 10, 2008

Earlier Web versions of this story misspelled John Psaropoulos.

Riots in major Greek cities have entered a fourth day after the weekend killing by police of a teenager. Much of downtown Athens has been closed because of the violence. John Psaropoulos, editor of the English-language newspaper The Athens News, offers his insight.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. It was another day of rioting in Greek cities following the funeral of a teenager who was shot by a policeman. 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot on Saturday. After his funeral today, a large crowd tried to storm the area near parliament in Athens.

John Psaroloulos is editor of the Athens News, a weekly English-language newspaper, and he joins us from Greece. Mr. Psaroloulos, there's a headline in the Greek online daily I read today that says, "Athens Riots Spin Totally Out of Control." Is that a fair assessment?

Mr. JOHN PSAROLOULOS (Editor, Athens News): Well, I would say that was a fair statement last night, on Monday night. At that point, when we had several multistory apartment buildings go up in flames, we were approaching a point of mass arson. Hundreds of cars destroyed that day and on Sunday. I think, at that point, we had reached the climax. Today was, I think, the beginning of a sort of downturn. We did have massive demonstrations, but not the damage we had yesterday.

SIEGEL: It seems that there was a great deal of pent-up grievance among certainly many young people in Greece, a grievance that's exploded after this shooting. Is that right, and if so, how would you describe the sources of this anger that we saw acted out in riots for three days?

Mr. PSAROLOULOS: It is difficult to explain. I spoke to a group of teenage boys, 17, who had been rioting during the day yesterday. And I caught them on the tail end of their protest, as they were trying to catch a cab home to one of the nicest suburbs of Athens, a lot nicer than the one I live in. And, of course, they couldn't take public transport because they had brought everything to a standstill, and cars were meandering around bonfires made out of a rubbish dumpster in the middle of the street.

And I asked them precisely this question. They told me various things which I thought were not in earnest. You know, stock sort of excuses, like how dare the police gun us down. Well, it's not as though the police routinely guns down teenagers in Greece. But what I think really did touch a nerve is when they spoke about the quality of their education in high school and at the tertiary level.

SIEGEL: Are you saying that one should look at the scenes of arson and riot in Greek cities and read into it dissatisfaction with the Greek educational system?

Mr. PSAROLOULOS: I think, in part, it does stem from dissatisfaction with the educational system. I think that young people are well aware that the quality of the education they are receiving is not what it should be. I think, increasingly, they are becoming insecure about their prospects in the labor market and in an increasingly competitive globalized labor market. I think that they want more university funding. They want better stewardship of the economy. They want fewer closed professions.

SIEGEL: I know that you're out-of-doors in the university area there. Can you just tell us what it looks like now?

Mr. PSAROLOULOS: Well, at the moment, it's extremely quiet. Even the university fountains are on, and they're working. There are a couple of people sitting on the steps of the law school building looking at the sparse traffic that has now begun to flow back through the center of Athens.

Life is clearly returning to normal. The broken bits of masonry and the concrete and the crowbars and the bonfires have all been picked up and put out, and I think that tomorrow morning, the city will look as though it's navigable again, and hopefully, the image people will get on television tonight will be that they can go to their jobs in the morning. But this is not at all the way things looked 24 hours ago, so it's a sign of improvement.

SIEGEL: Well, John Psaroloulos, editor of the Athens News, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. PSAROLOULOS: My pleasure.

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More Violence In Greece Ahead Of Slain Teen's Burial

Teenage protesters near parliament in the Greek capital scuffled with police Tuesday ahead of the funeral of a 15-year-old whose shooting by police set off three days of rioting across the country.

The funeral of Alexandros Grigoropoulos was set for Tuesday afternoon in a seaside suburb of Athens.

Schools and universities across Greece were closed, and hundreds of teachers and students rallied in central Athens. In the western part of the city, officials said groups of high-school students attacked four police stations, but riot police did not respond and no injuries were reported.

The violence Tuesday followed three nights of burning and looting that left stores and buildings gutted across Athens. Greece's other main cities also suffered serious damage.

Rioting began Saturday night after the death of Grigoropoulos, who was shot by police in the often-volatile Exarchia district.

Criticism has mounted in recent days of the police response during the riots and their inability to stop the destruction of businesses and cars.

Although riot police fired tear gas when rioters attacked them with rocks and Molotov cocktails, fighting running battles with masked youths throughout the night, they mostly stood back as the rioters smashed windows and torched stores.

From wire reports

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