AFP

ATHENS — A three-week hunger strike by a young anarchist who has become a household name in Greece has left the embattled government in a quandary, just as it mulls more unpopular austerity measures. Nikos Romanos, a 21-year-old jailed for attempted bank robbery, has been on hunger strike at a prison near Athens since Nov. 10 after authorities rejected his demand for educational leave. Romanos, who is serving a nearly 16-year sentence, is known to many Greeks as a close friend of Alexis Grigoropoulos, the teenager whose fatal shooting by a police officer in 2008 plunged the country into weeks of youth riots. ��A hunger strike by someone like Romanos, in today’s Greek society, is an explosive incident,�� said Dimitris Christopoulos, chairman of the Hellenic League of Human Rights. Romanos was standing next to Grigoropoulos when he fell to the ground after being shot during a row with two police officers.

Protests to mark the six-year anniversary of the teen’s death are to be held in Athens and other cities on Saturday. Tensions are already running high in Greece amid expectations the government will implement new tax hikes and pension cuts needed to secure another batch of EU-IMF loans. Fearful of a repeat of the 2008 riots, the conservative-led government has offered to allow Romanos to enroll in a distance learning program. But his lawyer and family are insisting that the youth, who has been accepted into a business degree program in Athens, be given study leave �X a right normally granted to convicts in Greece.

‘Political blackmail’ ��My requests have ended on the garbage pile, prompting me to claim this right, using my body as a barricade,�� Romanos said in a statement as he launched his hunger strike. The anarchist said he was consciously carrying out ��political blackmail�� to earn a few ��breaths of freedom.�� ��In a few days, Greece will mourn the first political prisoner to die on hunger strike,�� his parents warned in a separate statement. A demonstration Tuesday in Athens by over 4,000 supporters of Romanos degenerated into clashes with riot police. Romanos’ parents and doctors have warned that he faces irreparable health damage if he continues to refuse solid food. ��Nikos is the second victim of the Grigoropoulos affair. We lost Alexis, we do not want to lose Nikos,�� Petros Damianos, head of the school at Avlona prison, which Romanos attended, told a news conference this week. Romanos was sentenced to 15 years and 11 months behind bars for attempting to rob a bank in northern Greece with three accomplices in February 2013. At the time of his arrest, there was outrage after facial injuries sustained by the four suspects during their arrest were digitally removed from the pictures the police released to the public.