Greek militant guerrillas linked to shooting of policeman

Gunmen linked to Greece’s most militant guerrillas shot and seriously wounded a policeman in Athens yesterday, weeks after the killing of a teenager by police prompted nation wide rioting.

Police said one of at least two weapons fired at a group of riot police, guarding the Culture Ministry in the central Athens Exarchia district, was the same used by the left-wing Revolutionary Struggle guerrilla group.

“The investigation into the 9mm weapon used in Monday’s attack showed that it was used in an attack on a police station in April 2007,” police said. That was the last attack claimed by the group which surfaced in 2003.

After the capture of the deadly November 17 leftist urban guerrilla group in 2002, Revolutionary Struggle emerged as Greece’s most violent group with a series of bombings at ministries and police, and a spectacular rocket-propelled grenade attack at the US embassy in Athens in January 2007.

Early yesterday, at least two assailants repeatedly fired semi-automatic weapons at riot police in the area where the 15-year-old was killed on December 6. Weeks of rioting followed the teenager’s death causing damage worth hundreds of million of euros.

Police said the other weapon, an AK-47 assault rifle, was used in a December 23 attack on a police bus which a new leftist group, Public Action, said it staged to protest his killing.

“I express my abhorrence, my sorrow over the murderous attack against policemen,” Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said after visiting the hospital. “Bullets against them are targeted mainly at democracy and society as a whole.”

The gunmen fired about 40 shots and tossed a hand grenade at police to cover their escape. A 21-year-old policeman was taken to hospital with serious injuries from three bullets.

“His condition is critical but stable... This dramatic incident was a strike against democracy, against society and its institutions,” Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters at the hospital.

Police said they took in 72 people for questioning, but no arrests have been made. The gunmen fled into the streets of Exarchia where the violence erupted last month.

Tension remains high in the Greek capital which was hit by weeks of riots after the killing of Alexandros Grigoropoulos unleashed lingering anger at high youth unemployment and economic measures.

Political analysts said extremists were taking advantage of the explosive climate to stage their actions and provoke police.

“There are extremists ready to use such violence — not just firebombs but to kill — to keep the upheaval going,” said Costas Ifantis, politics professor at Athens university. “The ground is fertile.”

The violence has shaken a conservative government that has a fragile one-seat majority and trails the opposition in opinion polls by six percentage points.

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