Gunmen attacked a riot police unit in Athens yesterday, seriously wounding a policeman in an escalation of violence after the fatal police shooting of a teenager last month sparked Greece’s worst riots in decades.
The pre-dawn attack was aimed at a riot police unit stationed outside the Culture Ministry in the center of the capital, police spokesman Panagiotis Stathis said.
It comes nearly two weeks after gunmen opened fire with two automatic rifles against a riot police bus as it passed by a university campus outside the city center on Dec. 23. None of the about 20 police on board the bus was injured in that shooting.
The wounded policeman, who authorities identified as 21-year-old Dimanadis Matzounis, underwent surgery for two gunshot wounds, one to the thigh and one near the shoulder, said Panos Efstathiou, head of the Health Ministry’s operations center. He was listed in serious condition.
Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who visited the wounded policeman in hospital, described the attack as an attempt to undermine democracy.
“Those who attacked Diamandi Matzounis targeted democracy and order,” Pavlopoulos said.
“They will soon realize that democracy is strong and our society is safeguarded,” he said, adding that “no bullet and no murderer” could undermine the police force’s morale and sense of duty.
A police official, who asked not to be named because the information had not yet been officially released, said two men — one of them armed with a Kalashnikov-type automatic rifle — had sprayed the police unit with gunfire.
Police have frequently come under attack from protesters throwing gasoline bombs during two weeks of riots sparked by the Dec. 6 death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in a police shooting in the often volatile Exarchia district, while masked men have also attacked police stations with gasoline bombs.
But no attacks had caused serious injury until Monday’s shooting, which also took place in the Exarchia district, a downtown district of bars and restaurants that is also considered to be an area favored by radicals.
After the attack, patrol cars and riot police buses blocked access to much of Exarchia, and forensic investigators in white coveralls collected evidence from the site of the shooting.
The area remained cordoned off for several hours, and a police statement said authorities detained 72 people during the initial search for suspects after the attack, which occurred at 3:05am.