ATHENS, Greece – Hundreds of rioters are fighting pitched battles with police in the cities of Athens and Thessaloniki following the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy in central Athens Saturday night.
According to witnesses, the shooting occurred around 9:00 p.m. when a small group of youths attacked a police patrol car. A police officer fired three shots, hitting the teenager in the chest. Witness accounts diverge widely over what happened.
Several hours after the incident, police issued a statement saying the patrol car, with two officers inside, was attacked by a group of 30 stone-throwing youths while patrolling the central district of Exarchia.
According to the statement, the two officers left their car to confront the rioters. "The two (police officers) maintain that they were attacked again and responded, with one firing a stun grenade and the other, by shooting three times, resulting in the fatal wounding of the minor," the statement said.
Two Greek TV stations said the youth was rushed to a hospital but died upon arrival.
The two officers and the local precinct commander have been suspended pending an investigation, the statement said.
"The government expresses its profound regret over this incident. An inquiry on the circumstances of the death has already begun and, if the policemen are found to have been derelict in their duty, the punishment will be exemplary," Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said in a statement.
The news enraged hundreds of youths in the area who began rioting by attacking other police cars with stones and firebombs. Police responded by firing tear gas at the crowd, evacuating some restaurants in the area, and closing several streets to all traffic.
A few hours after the rioting began, the youths appeared to divide into at least three separate groups and there was a lull in the fighting.
At least one teenager was arrested, but no casualties were reported among the rioters or police.
Shortly after midnight, rioting resumed with increased intensity, with some protesters marching through the city center and others fighting police outside the National Technical University of Athens nearby. Police are making heavy use of tear gas, and rioters are hitting them with stones, firebombs and other projectiles.
In the northern city of Thessaloniki, dozens of youths attacked a police precinct in the city center and several others have blockaded a central city artery, near the Thessaloniki University campus.
Calls are being posted at Web sites, including the Independent Media Center, for more people to join the protests in Greece's two main cities, as well as the city of Iraklio, on the island of Crete.