- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ATHENS | Dozens of masked youths clashed with police at a union protest Tuesday in Athens during the country’s fifth general strike this year against the cash-strapped government’s planned pension and labor reforms.

Riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse troublemakers who threw chunks of marble broken off of subway station entrances and set rubbish bins on fire. Running clashes continued along a major avenue — lined with shuttered shops and banks — as rioters armed with wooden clubs made repeated sallies against police.

Seven policemen were injured in the clashes, and 13 demonstrators were detained, six of whom were arrested, police said. Riot police chased demonstrators into a main subway station, and an AP photographer saw police detain one young man in a subway car by using pepper spray on him.

Demonstrators smashed bus stops and phone booths, and broke windows at three shops and two bank branches. The demonstration ended after a few hours, and rioters melted away toward the central Exarcheia district — a traditional anarchist hangout.

However, Tuesday’s clashes were far more muted than the riots that erupted during a previous general strike on May 5, when three people died after becoming trapped in a bank torched by rioters.

The violence came as some 10,000 people took part in a demonstration organized by the country’s two main labor unions and fringe left-wing groups. An earlier separate march by some 6,000 members of the Communist Party-backed PAME union ended peacefully.

An estimated 7,000 people took part in two separate, peaceful protests in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Tuesday’s strike shut down public services, disrupted transport, left hospitals operating on emergency staff and pulled all news broadcasts off the air. The country’s airports, however, remained open, and international flights were operating normally, although nearly 100 domestic flights were canceled.

Unions fiercely oppose draft legislation submitted to parliament last week that would increase retirement ages and make it cheaper for companies to fire workers. The measures — which include raising women’s retirement age to 65 to match those of men and require 40 years of social security contributions for a full pension — are aimed at fixing the country’s debt crisis, which has shaken the entire eurozone.

Greece is caught in a major debt and deficit crisis; it avoided bankruptcy last month only after receiving the first installment of a $136 billion emergency loan package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

In return, Athens passed painful austerity measures, including cutting pensions and salaries and raising consumer taxes, and is now pushing through labor and social security reforms.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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