Greek police fire teargas at stone throwing youths

By Renee Maltezou

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police fired teargas at hundreds of stone-throwing youths after an anti-government march in Athens Friday, sparking fears of a return to the street violence which rocked the country last month.

Several thousand students, teachers and public sector workers marched to parliament in protest at the conservative government's policies, just over a month after the police shooting of a teen-ager unleashed the worst riots in decades fed by anger at youth unemployment and political scandals.

"Schools not bombs. Funds for education" read one banner, while marchers chanted: "These are the government's last days." Many shouted slogans against the Israeli invasion of Gaza.

Hundreds of anarchists waving black flags and wearing gas masks broke away from the march outside the university and threw stones and bottles at police, who responded with teargas.

Riot police with shields shut down roads and detained dozens of demonstrators in central Athens, where business groups estimate last month's riots caused 1 billion euros in damage and lost business.

"Thousands of protesters walked peacefully to parliament until anarchists threw bottles and stones at police," said a police official who declined to be named. "Police are chasing them around the city centre and have begun to make arrests."

The protest came two days after Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis announced a cabinet reshuffle aimed at shoring up the popularity of his government, which has fallen well behind the Socialist opposition party in opinion polls.

Newly-appointed Education Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos pledged Thursday to listen to all sides before implementing controversial education reforms, which would allow the introduction of private universities in Greece.

"It doesn't mean anything if the minister changes especially if the government's policy remains the same," said 33-year-old Nausika Tsima, a student, outside parliament.

Local media reported that a policeman shot with a Kalashnikov assault rifle by an unidentified gunman Monday was in a serious condition in hospital Friday.

Authorities have said the weapons used in the attack in the central Athens Exarchia district was the same used by the left-wing Revolutionary Struggle guerrilla group.

(Editing by Daniel Flynn)