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Anti-Clinton protests erupt into riots in Greece

November 19, 1999
Web posted at: 3:15 p.m. EST (2015 GMT)

ATHENS, Greece (CNN) -- Riot police fired tear gas, and anti-American protesters responded with gasoline bombs Friday as central Athens became a battleground just as U.S. President Bill Clinton arrived in the Greek capital for a short visit.

Clinton originally planned a longer stay in Greece, to begin before a European security summit in Istanbul, Turkey. But Greek and U.S. security concerns pushed him to postpone the trip until after the summit and shorten it to less than 24 hours.

The leftist protesters are angry at the U.S. role in NATO's bombing attack on Yugoslavia earlier this year.

The riot erupted in Syndagma Square almost at the very moment Air Force One touched down at Athens international airport. More than 10,000 protesters, who had come to the square for a Communist-led rally, tried to defy a ban on marching to the U.S. Embassy, but were blocked by a wall of helmeted, black-clad riot police.

Walking slowly en masse down the street toward the embassy, the protesters came literally face-to-face with the police -- and the tear gas.

A group of anarchists, who had gathered at a nearby rally, joined the main demonstration and responded to the police use of tear gas by hurling firebombs, rocks and marine flares, smashing storefront windows and burning American flags.

A series of running battles between police and rioters followed through the city's shopping and business district. At least five banks were damaged, one severely.

'Friend of Greece'

With thousands of police closing off many central Athens streets, Clinton was likely to see nothing of the protests just a few blocks away from where he was to attend a state dinner after leaving the airport.

Greeted at the airport by a small crowd waving American and Greek flags, the U.S. president declared himself a "friend of Greece."

"We look to ancient Greece for inspiration, but we look to modern Greece for leadership and partnership," he said. "Through this visit, I want the American people to see the changing face of Greece."

"I have come here as a 'philhellene' -- a friend of Greece, and I look forward to experiencing that wonderful quality of Greek hospitality known to all the world," Clinton said shortly after his arrival.

He told reporters that he believed the NATO bombing was the right thing to do, and he was unconcerned about the demonstrations.

"I know that a lot of people in Greece disagree with my position on Kosovo, and they have a right to their opinion and I have a right to mine," he said.

Clinton is scheduled to meet with Greece's President Costis Stephanopoulos and Prime Minister Costas Simitis on Saturday before traveling to Pisa and Florence, Italy, for meetings with Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema. The U.S. president is accompanied by his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea

 

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