Anarchists in control of Athens, Thessaloniki, set fires

Angry protestors burned and looted their way Monday through Athens for a third straight day in the worst riots in decades, with thousands of protestors setting fire to government buildings and businesses, dpa reported.

The violence followed the fatal police shooting of a teenager on Saturday.

Thick black smoke and tear gas engulfed central Athens as students set fire to entire buildings, including the offices of state airline Olympic Airways, the Foreign Ministry across from Parliament, a luxury department store and the headquarters of at least two banks.

As dusk settled on the Greek capital, hooded youths could be seen setting fire to the city's massive Christmas tree and festive village and were reportedly making their way toward heavily guarded Parliament buildings.

Dozens of shops, banks and even luxury hotels had their windows smashed and burned as youths played hide and seek and fought with riot police. Cars parked on streets were torched or turned over.

Police retaliated by beating protestors with batons and were able to arrest others.

The luxury hotel Athens Plaza in central Sytagma Square had all of its guests evacuated, reports said.

Earlier, more than 10,000 protestors from the Communist Party and other left-wing groups marched through the centre of Athens yelling anti-government slogans.

Hooded protestors, most in their teens, clearly had control of the Greek capital by nightfall Monday and could be seen looting stores and taking anything that could be used as a weapon.

Easily the worst riots Greece has seen in recent years began within hours of the fatal shooting of a teenager on Saturday night in the bohemian district of Exarhia in central Athens. Two police officers have been arrested and charged with manslaughter in the shooting.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis once again appealed for calm after an emergency meeting Monday night with his ministers and top security officials, trying to find a way to break the chain of violence and destruction.

"We will not tolerate unacceptable and dangerous events prompted by the traffic incident," Karamanlis said in a public address, promising to compensate businesses for the damage caused by rioters.

But with anger over economic hardships brewing for months and with many youths uncertain of their futures, the latest incident over the teenager's slaying could topple the unpopular conservative government.

Thousands of students, armed with fire bombs and stones, also clashed with police and smashed storefronts in the northern port city of Thessaloniki and in at least eight other cities across Greece.

From the northern city of Veria and Kavala to the central city of Trikala and Larissa, rioters committed arson and destroyed businesses and public buildings.

Fire departments in both major cities tried frantically to extinguish the flames, and in Athens firefighters were nearly burned to death when protestors set their truck on fire.

Hundreds of shopkeepers watched in dismay as their businesses were destroyed ahead of the busy Christmas shopping season, which they had hoped would make up for the financial crisis that has hit Greece.

It is estimated the damage will run into the millions of euros.

Police have detained more than 50 people, and 100 more were reported injured.

On Crete and the island of Corfu, massive riots took place, with gangs of high school students throwing chairs, wooden objects and rocks at security forces.

Abroad, demonstrators attempted to take over the Greek embassies in London, Berlin and Cyprus. At the Greek embassy in London, protestors took down the Greek flag and put up a black and red anarchist flag in its place.

Public unrest has grown with the conservative government's austerity measures, with unions regularly demonstrating against privatizations, pension reforms and the cost of living. One-fifth of Greeks live below the poverty line.

"Enough of this government, which does not understand the problems of this country," main opposition Socialist leader George Papandreou said.

A 24-hour general strike has been called for Wednesday, and analysts predict a new wave of riots to strike Greece.

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