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Greek court orders officers held in jail

Two were accused in the death of a teen, which sparked days of protest. A trial date was not set.

Officer Epaminondas Korkoneas (center) is accused of firing the shot that killed the boy.
Officer Epaminondas Korkoneas (center) is accused of firing the shot that killed the boy.Read moreVASSILIS PAPADOPOULOS / Eurokinissi

ATHENS, Greece - A Greek court yesterday ordered that two police officers be held in jail pending their trial for a teenage boy's fatal shooting - a death that has sparked five days of intensive riots in cities across the country.

One officer has been charged with murder for allegedly shooting dead 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in a confrontation Saturday in Athens. The other officer has been charged as an accomplice to murder. No trial date has been set.

Earlier, protesters attacked Athens' main courthouse with firebombs during a hearing for the two officers. Riot police responded by firing tear gas, and at least two people were injured. Police whisked the two officers out of a side entrance at the court.

Riot police and youths also clashed in downtown Athens during a demonstration by more than 10,000 people against the government's economic policies.

Greece's two largest labor unions organized the protest, along with a national strike yesterday that shut down schools, public services, hospitals and flights, increasing the pressure on Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis' fragile conservative government.

"This country is not being governed," Socialist Party member Evangelos Venizelos said in Parliament. "There is no way Mr. Karamanlis can come back from this."

The police officers' lawyer, Alexis Cougias, said a ballistics examination showed that the teen was killed by a ricochet and not a direct shot. One officer said he had fired warning shots, but did not shoot directly at the boy. "Because he fired in the air to save his life, as a result of this accident . . . he faces family and personal ruin," Cougias said of the officer.

He had been told about the ballistics report by authorities, he said. There was no comment from prosecutors, who do not make public statements on pending cases.

Amnesty International has accused Greek police of heavy-handed tactics against protesters.

Karamanlis' government has faced growing opposition to pension reforms, privatizations, and the loosening of state control on higher education, which many students fear will undermine their degrees.

Support for the government has sunk as gangs of youths marauded through cities since Saturday, torching businesses, looting shops and placing burning barricades across streets.

The clashes in Athens escalated yesterday into running battles through the city center, with masked youths pelting police with rocks, bottles and marble blocks from the Athens metro station. The youths shattered windows newly replaced after four nights of rioting.

"There is no state, we are the state," said protester Margaritis Korobanidis. "All these people in [Parliament] must leave. The protests will not stop anytime soon."

By late yesterday, Athens was generally peaceful. There was sporadic rioting in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Store owners have accused authorities of leaving their businesses unprotected as rioters smashed and burned their way through popular shopping districts.

Karamanlis pledged yesterday to fully compensate shop owners for the damage, with immediate cash assistance and favorable loans. "The government is determined to establish a sense of public safety and support for all the businesses that require assistance, to help them get back on their feet," he said.

But the prime minister has ignored calls for him to resign and call early elections.

An opinion poll for the conservative daily Kathimerini published yesterday found that 68 percent of Greeks believe the government mishandled the crisis. Only 18 percent approved. The Public Issues survey was based on 478 people questioned Monday and Tuesday and had a 4.5 percent margin of error.