ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek youths clashed with riot police in Athens on Friday as they protested the death of a teenage trolley passenger during a ticket inspection, a death that anti-austerity groups have blamed on the government’s harsh economic policies.
The violence came as 1,000 people marched through the working-class Peristeri district after the young man’s funeral, chanting anti-government slogans. Some protesters set rubbish bins on fire and threw stones at police, who responded with stun grenades and pepper spray.
At least four people were detained, but no injuries were reported.
Technical school student Thanassis Kanaoutis, 19, fell to his death Tuesday night when the trolley bus doors unexpectedly opened following an altercation with a ticket inspector because he hadn’t validated his ticket. The incident is under investigation.
Greece’s main opposition party, the Syriza Radical Left Coalition, has linked the death with the country’s severe economic crisis, saying the victim was unemployed and died because he couldn’t afford the 1.20-euro ($1.60) fare.
Syriza also condemned Athens transport authorities’ practice of giving ticket inspectors a cut of the fines they impose as an incentive to address widespread fare-dodging. The party demanded free transportation for the unemployed, low-income pensioners and students.
The anti-austerity “I won’t pay” group, which advocates non-payment of public transportation fares, highway tolls and utility bills, hailed the youth as “the first dead fighter for civil disobedience.”
Police temporarily suspended trolley bus services in Peristeri, for fear of attacks on transport workers, and closed two subway stations. Youths vandalized buses after Kanaoutis’ death in Athens and Thessaloniki, where 13 people were arrested for spraying slogans on a bus.
Earlier Friday, hundreds of protesters marched through Peristeri to the local cemetery. Some stopped a bus on the way, damaging the windshield and spray-painting “murderers” on the glass.
In 2008, the fatal police shooting of a teenager in Athens sparked weeks of rioting across the country.
For more than three years, debt-crippled Greece has survived on huge bailouts from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund. To secure continued disbursement of the rescue loans, the country has slashed spending and incomes, repeatedly raised taxes, increased the retirement age and — breaking a century-old taboo — pledged to cut 15,000 public sector jobs by 2015.
The cutbacks have deepened a five-year recession so severe that many economists call it a depression and pushed unemployment to nearly 28 percent — and about 65 percent among Greek youths.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the death would be fully investigated, and accused Syriza of engaging in “populism bordering on grave robbery.”