Greek officials urge calm after racist attacks

Government officials appealed for calm Friday after three days of attacks by ultranationalist mobs on dark-skinned foreigners in Athens, sparked by the fatal mugging of a Greek man in the capital's crime-infested center.

The public order minister, Christos Papoutsis, said there was a "very high risk of hate crimes" amid rising social tension, and promised future action to address inner-city crime.

Greece is in the throes of a major financial crisis. It is also the main gateway to the European Union for tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Asia and Africa that have transformed the capital's ethnic makeup by moving into depressed central neighborhoods. The influx has helped fuel a nationalist backlash that reached a climax this week.

Greece's Pakistani community says more than 100 Asian and African immigrants were attacked Thursday by rampaging youths protesting the mugging, in a march organised by residents of the center that was quickly taken over by ultranationalists.

Nobody has been arrested for Tuesday's killing near the National Archaeological Museum — the biggest showcase of Greece's rich ancient history. Many nationalists have blamed the killing on immigrants.

Several hundred youths, dressed in black and some wielding bats, were involved in the daytime violence, chasing immigrants through narrow streets before punching and kicking them to the ground.

Pakistani community spokesman Irfan Tamur Mohammad — himself an attack victim — said 17 migrants have been hospitalized and dozens of immigrant-owned shops attacked or looted, while police allegedly did little to stop the violence.

Authorities were unable to provide any figures on injuries.

"There were racist attacks before, but Thursday's events were something else, really terrifying," Mohammad said. "It all happened very suddenly, we didn't expect something that extreme."

"The police were everywhere, but neither did they offer us protection nor did they stop those who were attacking us," he said. "I have a wife and three children. Should I leave Greece, or stay and maybe get killed?"

Pakistani worker Riaz Ahmad said he was grabbed as he left home for work. "Five or six people started shouting: Catch him! They hit me with sticks and kicked me before I slipped back into my block of flats. I have lived in Greece for 11 years and everything has been fine. If things have changed now, what fault is it of ours?"

Separately, police are investigating the fatal stabbing of a Bangladeshi worker in another central Athens district that is home to many migrants and has a strong far-right presence. There have been no arrests, and the motive of Wednesday's attack remains unclear.

Government spokesman George Petalotis urged restraint.

"The spectacle of knifed immigrants in hospital cannot be accepted by Greek society," he told state TV. "Citizens who live in the center of Athens and in areas with a big (crime) problem are right to be frustrated ... but clearly nobody has the right to take the law into their own hands."

Immigrant shopkeepers in the city's old shopping center said they were threatened again Friday by nationalists, and many closed early for the day — one Chinese storefront draped with a big Greek flag.

"We can't do business," said a Pakistani shopowner who identified himself by his first name, Adnan. "I really don't know what to do."