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Mick Temple's Blog

ACROPOLIS NOW

12-12-2008

Our political blogger arrives in Athens - and the riots begin. Professor Mick Temple sends a despatch from Europe's hottest hot spot.

I arrived in Athens last weekend and riots broke out. I don't want to claim a correlation. After all, Conservative election victories have allegedly tended to occur at times of increased sun spot activity (often associated with a rise in irrational behaviour), and we wouldn't claim that was more than coincidence, would we?

The shooting by Greek police of a 15 year-old boy was the spark - or as some sceptical locals told me, the excuse - for this week's riots which have devastated the capital.

I've been in Athens for a conference on global media development and had also looked forward to the planned trips to historic sites such as the Acropolis. These were cancelled - the tourist attractions were mostly closed and the area around the Greek parliament was too dangerous - and we were told on Sunday to stay in the hotel.

During the afternoon on Monday, I skipped the conference and made my own way from my hotel (a kilometre or so away from the parliament) and was amazed that, despite a major riot police presence and large numbers of massing protesters, Athenians continued about their business apparently as normal. As it got dark I chickened out and made my way back via the still open Metro station - passing through a file of riot police to make my descent into the underground calm.

Normality among the 'anarchy'.

Even more amazing was the way the mostly young protesters have been allowed to continue their activities by the Greek authorities. For five nights now they have gathered up previously thrown rocks and assorted missiles in shopping trolleys, and wheeled them into Constitution Square. Come nightfall, they've proceeded to shower the police with these missiles supplemented by petrol bombs, smash up and loot any shop, large or small, that takes their fancy, and set fire to buildings, all with apparent impunity.

The pictures of distraught local business people in tears in front of their small shops are heart-rending and despite some sympathy with the student rioters - the police are not liked in Greece - the obvious question is now being asked. How can such behaviour be tolerated in a modern democracy?

Perhaps only in Paris could such events have lasted so long in a major western European city. The truth is that the Greek government is terrified of inflaming the situation, but the riots have now spread to at least ten cities. The resignation of PM Costas Karamanlis and the fall of his government is expected soon.

The aftermath of the death of Alex Grigoropoulos may institute some much needed reform of Greek policing. However, the way in which the socialist opposition has used the riots for narrow political advantage does not convince the disinterested observer (that is, me) that Greece will learn perhaps the most vital lesson from this tragedy.

Violence is counter-productive and should never be tolerated - wherever it comes from.

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