Violence rocks Greece

Violence rocks Greece

Over a lakh take part in protest against govts austerity measures

A riot policeman's clothing catches fire after being hit by a petrol bomb during clashes outside the Greek parliament in Athens on Wednesday. AP

Outside parliament, demonstrators hurled chunks of marble and gasoline bombs at riot police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Police said at least 14 officers were hospitalised with injuries. At least three journalists covering the demonstrations sustained minor injuries.

The violence spread across the city center, as at least 100,000 people marched through the Greek capital on the first day of a two-day general strike that unions described as the largest protest in years. Police and rioters held running battles through the narrow streets of central Athens, as thick black smoke billowed from burning trash and bus-stops.

Wednesday’s strike, which grounded flights, disrupted public transport and shut down shops and schools, came before a parliamentary vote late on  Thursday on new tax increases and spending cuts.

International creditors have demanded the reforms before they give Greece its next infusion of cash. Greece says it will run out of money in a month without the €8 billion ($11 billion) bailout money from its partners that use the euro and the IMF. Most of the protesters who converged in central Athens marched peacefully, but crowds outside of parliament clashed with police who tried to disperse them with repeated rounds of tear gas. A gasoline bomb set fire to a presidential guard sentry post at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Parliament, while running clashes broke out in several side streets near the legislature and the capital's main Syntagma Square.

Nearby, groups of hooded, masked protesters tore chunks of marble off building fronts with hammers and crowbars and smashed windows and bank signs. Scuffles also broke out among rioters and demonstrators trying to prevent youths from destroying storefronts and banks along the march route.

In Thessaloniki, protesters smashed the facades of about 10 shops that defied the strike and remained open, as well as five banks and cash machines. Police fired tear gas and threw stun grenades.

All sectors — from dentists, hospital doctors and lawyers to shop owners, tax office workers, pharmacists, teachers and dock workers — walked off the job before a parliamentary vote on Thursday on new austerity measures which include new taxes and the suspension of tens of thousands of civil servants. Flights were grounded in the morning but some resumed at noon after air traffic controllers scaled back their strike plan from 48 hours to 12. Dozens of domestic and international flights were still canceled.

Ferries remained tied up in port, while public transport workers staged work stoppages but kept buses, trolleys and the Athens subway system running to help protesters.

In Parliament, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told lawmakers that Greeks had no choice but to accept the hardship. “We have to explain to all these indignant people who see their lives changing that what the country is experiencing is not the worst stage of the crisis,” he said.

“We just can’t take it any more. There is desperation, anger and bitterness,” said Nikos Anastasopoulos, head of a workers’ union for an Athens municipality.
A communist party-backed union has vowed to encircle Parliament Thursday in an attempt to prevent deputies from entering the building for the vote.

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