ATHENS (Reuters) - British police will help Greek authorities investigate a wave of violent attacks against banks and businesses, on the rise since riots shook the government in December, officials said on Tuesday.
Still reeling from the worst riots in decades following the police killing of a 15-year-old, Britain is being asked for help by a government that has seen its popularity fall sharply amid widespread criticism of the police.
“British police officials are here to help Greek police deal with the bomb attacks. A meeting is expected to take place sometime this week,” said a police official who requested anonymity.
Greece last turned to Britain for help before the 2004 Athens Olympics and that led to the capture of November 17, Greece’s deadliest guerrilla group, in 2002.
Government officials confirmed the cooperation with Britain but would give no further details. The British embassy in Athens declined to comment.
Greek police say they are now focussing on Revolutionary Struggle, which emerged as Greece’s most militant group after the break-up of November 17. Last week, it claimed responsibility for two bomb attacks against Citibank branches in Athens.
Revolutionary Struggle has staged seven bomb attacks in the last two years, including a rocket-propelled grenade attack against the U.S. embassy in Athens in 2007. It shot and seriously wounded a 21-year-old policeman in December.
The resurgence of urban guerrillas has prompted opposition parties to criticise the government, which clings to a one-seat parliamentary majority as the global economic crisis bites.
“Greeks are afraid. They are afraid for their jobs, their finances, their families’ prospects. Now they are also afraid for their life and property,” main socialist opposition PASOK spokesman George Papaconstantinou said.
The government has promised reforms after a series of embarrassments, including the escape from prison of Greece’s most notorious criminal by helicopter -- for the second time.
Reforms include better training for police and prison guards and the creation of a special body to deal with the explosive Athens centre, the area most hurt by the unrest.
In the latest incident in what has become an almost daily outbreak of violence, a group of hooded youths smashed more than 40 shops and several cars in an upmarket shopping street, terrifying shopkeepers and passers-by on Friday.
Justice Minister Nikos Dendias said stricter laws would be used against those rampaging covered with hoods.
“Those caught (rampaging) and covering their faces with hoods, will face an additional prison time of 2-10 years,” Dendias said on Tuesday.
Editing by Giles Elgood