Romany leaders in Greece have appealed for calm following a second day of violent protests triggered by the police shooting of a teenage boy, who is in intensive care.
Outrage over the incident, which took place in Thessaloniki when the 16-year-old reportedly sped out of a petrol station without paying a €20 fuel bill, has resulted in thousands spilling on to the streets and clashes erupting in major urban centres.
“We have to be restrained,” said Panayiotis Sambanis, who heads the country’s Federation of Roma. “I am appealing to everyone to calm down.”
At least 10 police officers were reported injured in what were described as riots in Athens and Thessaloniki as protesters also marked the 6 December anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, another teenager, in 2008.
Greece’s civil protection minister said the shooting this week of the Romany boy, identified as Kostas Frangoulis, was being investigated and “everyone should respect that”.
“Yesterday’s attacks and the injuries sustained by police officers must be unanimously condemned,” said Takis Theodorikakos, who is in charge of public order. “We support the police but always [adhering] strictly within the framework of the law. The law is for everyone without exception.”
Frangoulis has been hospitalised in critical condition after being shot in the head when a motorised police division, alerted to the incident by the petrol station owner, responded by chasing his pickup truck.
The officer, who acknowledged pulling the trigger and has since been suspended, faces charges of attempted manslaughter with possible intent and illegally using his service pistol. Appearing before a public prosecutor, the 34-year-old said his intended target was the vehicle’s wheel and that he opened fire only twice after the teenager attempted to ram one of the pursuing police patrols, which put “the lives of my colleagues in danger”.
The incident has not only highlighted what is widely perceived as a culture of abuse and impunity in the Greek police but incensed the Romany community, with many believing Frangoulis was deliberately targeted because he was a member of a minority ethnic group. Human rights groups have echoed that view.
In recent years a number of Romany men have been fatally shot or injured in similar chases by police.
“The only thing we want is justice,” the boy’s father told reporters on Wednesday. “The policeman should be punished and put inside because he shot a 16-year-old.”
“I brought him up in my poverty and he was the best kid. He did what he did and we apologise,” he said of his son’s refusal to pay the fuel bill, “but [the policeman] should not have shot him and [tried to] kill him.”
Weeks of unrest followed the killing of Grigoropoulos. His death triggered the worst riots the nation had seen in decades.
In echoes of those protests, demonstrators including many Roma waged street battles with police, hurling rocks and petrol bombs as officers responded with teargas and stun grenades.
With tensions running high, the civil protection minister cautioned against “a repeat of those terrible events”, saying it was wrong to associate the two incidents.