Spate of crimes brings pressure on government ahead of elections

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The Independent Online

Greece's public order minister defended the government's crime-fighting record Tuesday after a spate of shootings and other violent incidents prompted sharp criticism from opposition parties ahead of general elections.

Greece's public order minister defended the government's crime-fighting record Tuesday after a spate of shootings and other violent incidents prompted sharp criticism from opposition parties ahead of general elections.

"There has been a barrage (of crimes) over the last three days, but that does not mean the crime rate has risen," Michalis Chrisohoidis told reporters. He said crime had been curbed this year by bolstered police patrols in major cities and border areas. Official crime figures are not yet available for 2000.

Crime has emerged as a major political issue in Greece, where the number of violent offenses rose sharply during the 1990s, as powerful networks smuggling immigrants, drugs and guns sprung up following the collapse of Communist rule in Eastern Europe.

Many Greeks have also increasingly blamed the government for failing to crack down on illegal immigrants, who many blame for increasing crime. Although as many as 1 million documented and illegal immigrants may be in Greece - equal to nearly 10 percent of the population - the more recent police statistics indicate Greeks are responsible for the majority of illegal acts

In the latest incident Tuesday, a Polish immigrant carrying a handgun and an assault rifle was shot dead by police on a busy street in Athens' Petroupoli area after firing at a moving patrol car, authorities said.

Earlier, a motorist was arrested after seriously injuring two officers when he drove through a police roadblock in the capital.

Opposition parties have criticized Greece's long-governing Socialists over crime, sharpening their attacks ahead of the April 9 general elections.

"People feel insecure because of the surge in crime," conservative opposition leader Costas Caramanlis said Sunday. "We cannot tolerate this situation any more. Crimes that were once unknown in Greece have become a daily occurrence."

A gang of robbers at the weekend blocked a road in central Greece and shot dead a passing motorist. And in central Athens, three men spotted in a stolen car opened fire on police with Uzi-style automatic weapons fitted with armor-piercing bullets, injuring three officers. One of the gunmen, a Romanian, was killed when police returned the fire. His alleged Greek accomplice was arrested early Tuesday after he was stopped at a roadblock in possession of a pistol and a hand grenade.

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