Greece ticket inspection death prompts protest

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By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of people marched in Athens on Friday to protest the death of a teenage trolley bus passenger during a ticket inspection, which anti-austerity groups have blamed on the Greek government's harsh economic policies.

The 19-year-old man fell to his death Tuesday night when the trolley bus doors unexpectedly opened following an altercation with an inspector because he hadn't validated his ticket. The incident was under investigation.

Greece's main opposition party, the Syriza Radical Left Coalition, linked the death with the economic crisis, saying the victim was unemployed and died because he couldn't afford the 1.20-euro ($1.60) fare.

Syriza also condemned Athens transport authorities' practice of giving ticket inspectors a cut of the fines they impose as an incentive to address widespread fare-dodging. The party demanded free transportation for the unemployed, low-income pensioners and students.

The anti-austerity "I won't pay" group, which advocates non-payment of public transportation fares, highway tolls and utility bills, hailed the youth as "the first dead fighter for civil disobedience."

Police temporarily suspended trolley bus services in the working-class Peristeri district where Thanassis Kanaoutis died, for fear of attacks on transport workers, and closed two subway stations. Youths vandalized buses after Kanaoutis' death in Athens and Thessaloniki, where 13 people were arrested for spraying slogans on a bus.

More than 700 people marched to the cemetery where Kanaoutis was buried Friday, chanting slogans against the conservative-led government. Some protesters stopped a public transport bus they met on the way, damaging the windshield and spray-painting the word "murderers" on the glass.

A larger protest march was underway in Peristeri after the funeral service. Police mounted strong security in the area.

In 2008, the fatal police shooting of a teenager in Athens sparked weeks of major rioting across the country.

For more than three years, debt-crippled Greece has survived on huge bailouts from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund. To secure continued disbursement of the rescue loans, the country has slashed spending and incomes, repeatedly raised taxes, increased the retirement age and — breaking a century-old taboo — pledged to cut 15,000 public sector jobs by 2015.

The cutbacks have deepened a five-year recession so severe that many economists call it a depression and pushed unemployment to nearly 28 percent — and about 65 percent among youths.

A Syriza statement Friday said Kanaoutis' death "shows, in the most tragic manner, the state large sections of Greek society have found themselves in as a result of (austerity) policies."

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the death would be fully investigated, and accused Syriza of engaging in "populism bordering on grave robbery."

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