Saturday 21 April 2018

Bomb explosion injures two at Athens shopping centre

George Georgiopoulos

A MAKESHIFT bomb lightly injured two security staff at a large shopping centre near Athens today, in escalating political violence in the crisis-hit country.

The blast followed gun and bomb attacks on political figures and journalists in recent weeks, some claimed by anti-establishment leftist groups angry about Greece's financial woes.

The device, which exploded shortly before 11 a.m. (0900 GMT), was left in a rubbish bin close to a branch of National Bank at The Mall shopping centre in the middle-class suburb of Maroussi, said police. There were no claims of responsibility so far.

While shops are closed on Sunday, cafes, cinemas and restaurants in the centre were open for business. Police evacuated the mall after two warning calls to a newspaper and a news site, made about half an hour earlier.

Maroussi mayor George Patoulis told state Net TV about 200 people were in the shopping centre.

"We were doing inventory in our shop and the police told us to evacuate. We ran out and in 10 minutes we heard the blast. It all happened really fast," a shop clerk told SKAI radio.

Police shut down the nearby metro station, combed the centre for other explosive devices and were checking security cameras. Authorities said the two security guards suffered minor cuts from shattered glass.

"Police think it was a makeshift time bomb, they will know for sure including what type of explosive material was used after laboratory checks are completed," said a police official who declined to be named.

All major political parties immediately comdemned the attack, the first to cause injuries in several years.

"We are dealing with a new type of terrorism that not only picks symbolic targets but wants blood and death," the co-ruling Socialist PASOK party said in a statement.

The country's public order ministry urged the political class to work together to end the violence.

"It is not enough to verbally condemn the incident, there must be an absolute isolation of violence and terrorism by the political system. The message is our democracy cannot be terrorised," it said in a statement.

The government has said in the past Syriza, the radical leftist main opposition party, tacitly backs anti-establishment groups. Syriza, which condemned Sunday's attack, denies this.

"The attack shocked us. It is the first time commercial areas are targeted. This scares consumers and hurts the market at a time when social peace is needed," the president of the Confederation of Greek Commerce, Vassilis Korkidis, told Reuters.

Greece is in the sixth year of a recession that has fuelled anger against banks, foreign lenders and politicians, blamed by Greeks for bringing the country close to bankruptcy.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says racist attacks have also risen to alarming levels in Greece during the crisis, and hundreds of demonstrators in Athens on Saturday paraded the coffin of a Pakistani immigrant who was stabbed to death.

On Monday, unidentified attackers opened fire on the Athens headquarters of Greece's co-ruling New Democracy party with a Kalashnikov assault rifle.


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