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Clashes reported in Athens as thousands protest debt measures

Protesters and police have clashed in the Greek capital, Athens, after thousands of public sector workers walked off the job in a new round of nationwide strikes. Transport, hospitals and media have all been affected.

Demonstrators hold a banner which reads in Greek General uprising'' during a march organized by a Communist-backed labor union, in central Athens, Thursday, May 20

Thousands have taken to the streets of Athens

Violent clashes have broken out between demonstrators and police on the streets of the Greek capital, Athens, as some 10,000 people took to streets to protest the government’s austerity measures intended to address Greece’s debt crisis.

Despite attracting fewer people than expected, the demonstration turned ugly when masked youths reportedly began throwing rocks and petrol bombs at riot police. In response, police fired teargas and used baton-charges at several sites around Athens to disperse the angry crowds. At least one police officer was reported injured in the clashes.

Public transport and other services around the country were also heavily disrupted as workers walked off the job to voice their anger over the government's proposed austerity measures.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou

Greek PM Papandreou faces an uphill battle against debt and public anger

Bus, ferry and train services were down, and schools, local media and banks were closed during the 24-hour walkout. Airports, however, remained open early on Tuesday, though domestic flights - including those to popular tourist islands - were affected.

The marches were scheduled to coincide with talks in the Greek parliament on controversial pension reforms that would see the retirement age raised to 65 and the mandatory period for pension contributions increased from 37 to 40 years.

"These measures won't help. They will only lead to deeper recession and poverty," said Despina Spanou, board member of the Adedy union, which helped organized the marches.

Government under pressure

The Greek government urgently needs to curb its massive budget deficit in exchange for a 110-billion-euro loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that has saved it from defaulting on its debt.

Many Greeks are already feeling the pinch from the government's cost-cutting measures, which include cuts in holiday bonuses for civil servants. Sales tax is also set to rise by 2 percent to 23 percent from July 1.

A woman leaves flowers, outside the central Athens bank building where three workers died in a fire

Three bank workers died during protests on May 5

Greece's two main airlines, Olympic Air and Aegean, have cancelled nearly 50 domestic flights on Tuesday, including many to popular tourist destinations on the Greek islands. Overseas flights are not affected by the strikes.

Ferry connections are also set to be disrupted, contributing to the vital tourism industry's woes. Tourism makes up 17 percent of Greece's national income and is crucial for any sustained revival of the flagging Greek economy.

Tuesday's nationwide strike is the fifth major walkout this year. The biggest turnout so far was on May 5, when 50,000 workers marched in Athens and three people were killed in the fire-bombing of a bank in the Greek capital.

Author: Darren Mara, Gabriel Borrud (Reuters/AFP/DPA)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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