Anarchy erupts in Greece as austerity bites
As Thessalonika riots, a town near Athens spins out of control with angry residents setting up massive roadblocks and hurling Molotov cocktails
By Elena Becatoros
Sunday, 17 April 2011
As explosions boom, the town’s loudspeakers blare: “Attention! Attention! We are under attack!” Air-raid sirens wail through the streets, mingling with the frantic clanging of church bells. Clouds of tear gas waft between houses as helmeted riot police move in to push back the rebels. This isn’t a war zone, but a small town just outside Athens. And while its fight is about a rubbish dump, it captures Greece’s angry mood over its devastated economy.
As unemployment rises and austerity bites ever harder, tempers seem to fray faster in Greece, with citizens of all stripes thumbing their noses at authority. Some refuse to pay increased highway tolls and public transport tickets. There has been a rise in politicians being heckled and even assaulted. Yesterday, in Thessalonika, scores of activists were arrested after violent clashes with police.
The anger is most palpable in Keratea, a town of 15,000 people 30 miles south of Athens which appears to have spun out of control. The state’s attempt to start work on a planned landfill site on a nearby hillside in December caused locals to set fire to construction vehicles and erect massive roadblocks on a road that bypasses the town and runs to the capital. It’s a fight that has galvanised the town, from the mayor and the local priest to shopkeepers, farmers, schoolteachers and teenagers.
Over the past four months, locals have developed increasingly inventive roadblocks to stop contractors from getting to the site. They have parked trucks across the street and built piles of rubble and dirt. Apparently in it for the long haul, they have erected a wooden hut by the side of the road to serve as protest headquarters, complete with campaign posters, news clippings and children’s drawings of the riots. Their latest move was a nocturnal expedition to dig a shoulder-deep trench across both lanes of the road. That was one step too far for the authorities, who, on Thursday, sent in workers – protected by police – to repair the damage.