Menelaos Tzafalias: 'People are dying now. These things cannot be justified'

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The Independent Online

Athens was in tears again yesterday and it wasn't just because of the dense clouds of teargas that hung in the air, making it hard to see or breathe. Three hours after the firebombing of a branch of Marfin bank, a crowd of about 200, mostly young people, were still gathered in front of the ruined building. The corpses of three people – two women and a man – were inside. All three victims were in their thirties and one of the women was pregnant, according to an unconfirmed report.

Yannis Panagiotopoulos, 48, secretary of a technical university staff union, was there when the bank caught fire.

"There were some people who tried to break windows. Every time the protesters saw them, we booed them. I saw the flames come out of the first floor," he said.

The bank openly criticised the authorities for allowing the situation to get out of hand and expressed "outrage" at the "murder of our three young colleagues".

Underground, on the platform of the striking Athens metro, people held their hands over their mouths as they tried to breathe.

The smell of pepper spray was bitter. "I was in my office. It was chaos," said Dionysis Giannopoulos, 25, a young lawyer who works opposite parliament, which thousands of protesters had tried to storm. "We heard loud explosions. These things cannot be justified, people are dying now."

Theodoros Dimitrakopoulos,a student, was camped opposite the building, at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He planned to stay at the spot all night in a peaceful protest. One of the slogans being chanted earlier went: "Burn it down, burn it down. That brothel parliament." But Mr Dimitrakopoulos said: "We want their rotten ideas up in flames, not the building." Stavris Stasinos, who runs a kiosk, said: "Worse things are to come."

Opposite the public entrance of the parliament, a man shouted at riot police: "Do you have children?" He was arrested. Eirini Nitsola, 54, was with him. Breaking down in tears, she said: "Why did they take him? Why did they have to bring in the Americans (a reference to the IMF)?"

In a café in Kolonaki, Kostas Yavroglou observed that the strike and the protest had been "momentous" until the deaths in the bank. "Those elements" had no place in peaceful protests, he said. Aggeliki Iliopoulou, 31, a private sector worker, was scornful. "Nothing will come of this. People are dying, shops are destroyed, they are taking us backwards as a country."

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