Riots erupt outside Athens courthouse during police testimony

Athens's main courthouse came under attack on Wednesday when hundreds of protesters threw rocks and firebombs as the police officers accused of fatally shooting a teenage boy testified inside.

10,000 march on parliament in nationwide strike

Rioters throw stones at police near the parliament building in central Athens on Wednesday. ((Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press))
Athens's main courthouse came under attack on Wednesday when hundreds of protesters threw rocks and firebombs as the police officers accused of fatally shooting a teenage boy testified at a pre-trial hearing inside.

A judge Wednesday ordered the officers to remain in jail until the trial begins. A date has not yet been set.

Greek authorities have charged a 37-year-old police officer with murder in the shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, 15, who was shot in Athens's volatile central Exarchia district on Saturday night. A second officer has been charged as an accomplice in the shooting.

The police association has apologized to the teenager's family but the death has spurred five days of rioting throughout Greece.

The two men testified behind closed doors as chaos raged in front of the courthouse.

Youths hurled Molotov cocktails at the building and attacked a television satellite truck while riot police fired tear gas in an attempt to push them back.

Shot from above: lawyer

Alexis Cougias, the lawyer for the two police officers, said Wednesday that ballistics show the teenager's death was an accident and not the result of a direct shot. Authorities have not yet made the contents of the report public.

Cougias said the officer fired a shot into the air and it ricocheted back at the teen.

"We have an entry wound from above," Cougias told reporters outside the courthouse. "It proves irrefutably that it was a ricochet."

The two policemen involved in the shooting have said they came under attack by a group of about 30 youths and fired three warning shots. Witnesses have disputed the officers' accounts and allege the police intended to shoot the youths.

The shooting has inflamed what had already been rampant discontent over the Conservative government's economic policies.

10,000 march on parliament

Protesters argue with riot police protecting the parliament building in Athens. ((Bela Szandelszky/Associated Press))
The riots at the courthouse come amid a previously scheduled nationwide general strike, in which 10,000 people marched on the Greek parliament buildings Wednesday to protest the government's economic policies.

The strike shut down flights, banks, schools and hospitals. Many shops in central Athens stayed closed during the rally, boarding up their windows to prevent further damage.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced Wednesday the government will provide financial support to businesses that have been damaged during the rioting.

Karamanlis had called on labour unions to cancel the strike in an attempt to keep the tensions from continuing to escalate. But the unions rejected the appeal, saying Greeks have a right to protest economic hardship.

Calls for early election

Greek riot police stand guard as protesters place candles and placards showing a handgun during a protest in central Athens's Syntagma Square late Tuesday. ((Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press))
Karamanlis's government has a majority of only one seat in the 300-member parliament and has already recently faced one round of violent demonstrations against economic reforms. The latest widely televised scenes of destruction are likely to further undermine his government's razor-thin majority.

The opposition Socialists have called on Karamanlis to hold early elections because of his government's inability to calm the riots in Greece.

The Conservatives trail the Socialists in recent opinion polls.

Protesters chanted anti-government slogans as they marched through the streets in central Athens and then threw stones, firebombs and sticks at parliament.

"It's very simple: we want the government to fall," said Petros Constantinou, an organizer with the Socialist Workers Party. "This boy's death was the last straw for us."

The four nights of widespread burning and looting have gutted stores and buildings across the country, including on the tourist islands of Crete and Corfu and in the northern city Thessaloniki.

Despite Wednesday's demonstrations, officials were reporting that outbreaks of fighting appeared to be less widespread than in previous days.

Observers have said the growing hostility among Greek youth is being fed by public discontent over low wages, frequent public corruption scandals and a strong historic distrust of government that is rooted in past political upheavals.

Some analysts have compared the riots to a 1973 student uprising that helped topple a military junta.

With files from the Associated Press