- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 19, 2011

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek anger over new austerity measures and layoffs erupted into violence outside parliament on Wednesday, as demonstrators hurled chunks of marble and gasoline bombs at riot police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

The violence echoed across Athens, 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.

The strike, which grounded flights, disrupted public transport and shut down shops and schools, came ahead of a parliamentary vote Thursday on new tax increases and spending cuts.

International creditors have demanded the reforms before they give Greece its next infusion cash. Greece says it will run out of money in a month without the euro8 billion ($11 billion) bailout money from its partners that use the euro and the International Monetary Fund.


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.

A protester fights with a riot police officer during clashes outside the Greek Parliament on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A protester fights with a riot police officer during clashes outside the ... more >

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 amongst rioters and demonstrators trying to prevent youths from destroying storefronts and banks along the march route.

Vendors sold swimming goggles to rioters, who used them to ward off the tear gas.

Thousands of people watched the skirmishes, some standing on kiosk roofs to get a better view. Trash was strewn around the streets, and some protesters set clumps of it on fire.

In Greece’s second city of 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 ahead of a parliamentary vote 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 metro 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. “It is an anguished and necessary effort to avoid the ultimate, deepest and harshest level of the crisis. The difference between a difficult situation and a catastrophe is immense.”

About 3,000 police deployed in central Athens, shutting down two metro stations near parliament as protest marches began. Protesters banged drums and chanted slogans against the government and Greece’s international creditors who have pressured the country to push through rounds of tax hikes and spending cuts.

“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.

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