Dec 10, 2008
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Businesses despair at cost of Athens riots

Dec 10, 2008

ATHENS, Dec 10, 2008 (AFP) - Greek store owners bitterly count the cost Wednesday of five days of riots that have scarred Athens and other major cities.

The Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry said 435 businesses had been hit during the violence, with 37 completely gutted, and estimated the damage at 50 million euros (65 million dollars).

Firemen try to put out a fire at a shop during riots in the northern Greek
Photo : Grigoris Siamidis/Reuteurs

There has been much criticism of the police and government among store owners who have been left to pick through the smouldering ruins of their businesses looted and burned in daily riots since a 15-year-old boy was fatally shot in Athens on Saturday.

"We've sustained damages of 80,000 euros in smashed windows and stolen jewellery," said George Papalexis, 27, owner of a Zolotas jewellery store in the capital.

"Around 20 people tore open the iron covers, broke the reinforced window and used a makeshift pincer to pick out jewellery. The police were completely absent from the nearby streets."

Business owners in the Exarchia district where Alexis Grigoropoulos was killed, have slept in their shops since Saturday, using fire extinguishers to fight off looters.

Even in more upmarket areas, windows were boarded up ahead of a rally outside parliament on Wednesday as a general strike took its toll on air, sea, rail and land transport.

The chamber of commerce said cellphones, computer software, clothes, shoes, electronics, jewels and watches had all been swept up. No estimate has been given yet for other cities or damage to public property across the country.

Between political corruption and now the teenager's death, Papalexis said there was "a complete absence of the system" designed to protect the public.

"Very soon we'll see a change of government. It's a disgrace to see a city left to burn. It was a laissez-faire stance by the government and police that we had never seen before."

Costas Karamanlis, the conservative prime minister, on Wednesday pledged 10,000 euros (12,000 dollars) in immediate aid packages for stricken businesses, plus a tax freeze and government-guaranteed loans to restore buildings and property burnt or stolen by looters.

"The government is determined to consolidate the feeling of public safety and to help businesses get back on their feet," Karamanlis said in a televised national address.

But newspapers on all political persuasion have said the police was "in ruins" and that "the state had thrown down its arms" in the face of the rioters.

"All we can do is follow orders, it's up to our political leaders to assume their responsibilities, but everyone has been overcome," police union president Christos Photopoulos told AFP.by Catherine Boitard

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