Athens’ Christmas tree gets police guard

ATHENS — The Christmas tree adorning the Athens city centre will be given a 24-hour police guard after its predecessor was burned to a crisp during youth riots last year, police said on Friday.

The 15-metre (49-foot) metallic structure covered with scores of small fir trees will be “discreetly” monitored by police foot patrols, a police source told AFP.

The tree, which is the centrepiece of Athens’ Christmas festivities on central Syntagma Square, is to be lit Friday night.

Television footage of last year’s burning tree was one of the most emblematic images of riots sparked by the fatal shooting of a teenage boy by a policeman whose squad car was allegedly assaulted by a group of youths.

A replacement tree was later also targeted by demonstrators who pelted it with garbage after authorities ringed it with riot police.

The city of Athens postponed this year’s tree unveiling until after street demonstrations held in several cities last weekend to commemorate 15-year-old Alexis Grigoropoulos’ death on December 6, 2008.

Scores of youths clashed with riot police on the sidelines of the Athens demonstrations on Sunday and Monday, and the rector of Athens University was injured in a brief takeover of the university’s offices in the city centre.

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