Greek police clash with anti-US protesters as Rice arrives

It was the first official trip by a US secretary of state to Greece in 20 years.

Greece protests AP 298 (photo credit: AP)
Greece protests AP 298
(photo credit: AP)
Riot squads fired tear gas Tuesday at masked youths hurling gasoline bombs and rocks after they tried to break through a police cordon to reach the building where US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was meeting with the Greek foreign minister. The youths set fire to a delivery van and smashed store fronts in one of most Athens' luxurious shopping areas as they were chased by police away from central Syntagma Square. Police fired more than a dozen tear gas canisters to disperse about 3,000 protesters from two separate rallies that merged. One had been organized by the Communist Party and the other by anti-globalization activists. In Turkey, Islamic and leftist groups held anti-American demonstrations in Istanbul and in the capital, Ankara, where Rice was due to arrive Tuesday afternoon. The clashes in Athens broke out as Rice met with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and hours before she was to meet with Prime Minister Costas Caramanlis. No arrests had been made by 1 p.m. (1000GMT), police said. Police had warned protesters not to march into the square. "Condoleezza killer go home, hands off Iran," read one banner at the Communist gathering, attended by more than 2,000 people. Speakers condemned the United States on issues ranging from the embargo on Cuba to NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbia. At the anti-globalization rally, a few hundred protesters demonstrated against U.S. policy against Iran. "I am here to say no to the war against Iraq, against Iran and all the countries which disagree with American policies. Maybe there are many terrorists, but the people are innocent," said protester Chris Vagenis. Police said more than 5,000 uniformed officers have been deployed around Athens during the one-day visit, which was expected to finish in the early afternoon when Rice leaves for Turkey. She will then visit Bulgaria for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. After the main protests ended, anarchists badly damaged a Public Works Ministry vehicle and attacked an Apple computer shop in the central Athens district of Exarcheia, police said. In Istanbul, two youths were arrested for unfurling a banner reading "Murderer Rice Get Out" from the top floor window of a McDonald's restaurant. In Ankara, about 300 demonstrated in a street just a few hundred meters away from a building where Rice was scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. They doused red paint over an American flag and toy dolls, representing children killed in Iraq. The group marched to the heavily guarded US embassy and shouted slogans from across the other side of the street. Protesters shouted: "Killer US get out of the Middle East," and police allowed a dozen representatives to leave photos from Iraq of the dead, injured people and mistreated Abu Graib prison detainees. The date of Rice's visit, originally planned for Thursday, was changed following threats of major demonstrations against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was the first official trip by a US secretary of state to Greece in 20 years. In March 1986, Secretary of State George Schultz's visit coincided with a terrorist bombing. Greece is considered a hotbed of anti-Americanism in Europe and protests caused former Secretary of State Colin Powell to cancel two planned visits _ one in late 2003 and another during the Athens Olympics in 2004. Threatened protests also forced former US President Bill Clinton to shorten a 1999 visit, which was marred by clashes between police and anti-globalization activists. Turkey stepped up security for Rice's visit. Newspaper reports said Turkish F-16 fighter jets would escort her plane as soon as it enters the Turkish airspace. Rice would board a bullet-proof secured car at the tarmac of Ankara's Esenboga airport, the Anatolia news agency reported. Roads would be blocked and snipers were positioned on rooftops. About 1,000 police officers were providing security during the visit, the agency said.