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Violence erupts in Athens before austerity vote

A largely peaceful rally near Greece's parliament has turned violent hours before lawmakers are to vote on new austerity measures. Meanwhile, parliament employees went on strike, bringing the debate to a halt.

Amid the more than 70,000 people gathered in front of the parliament building in Athens, an exchange between protesters and authorities turned violent. Police attempted to disperse the crowds with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons. People in the crowd then began throwing rocks and petrol bombs in response.

According to the news agency Reuters, the clash began when some protesters tried to break through the barricade on Syntagma Square outside of parliament.

Meanwhile, inside the building, parliamentary employees went on strike to protest salary cuts, interrupting the debate. The government reversed the proposal in order to restore calm in the session.

Protesters had gathered for a second day to publicly oppose widely unpopular austerity measures likely to pass through parliament.

Individual demonstrators recounted their dire financial situations to news agency reporters.

"They have already cut my pension from 2,250 euros (2,870 dollars) to 1,250, and now I risk even further cuts," retired banker Grigoris Vasiliou, 70, told the news agency dpa. "They do not understand that on this pension I am supporting my wife and three unemployed children."

"The austerity measures which are going to be voted on in parliament are a shame for every family, for Greece and for Europe," Vasiliou said.

Greece's parliament is scheduled to vote on the latest austerity measures late Wednesday night. The new cuts include a rise in the retirement age to 67 from the current 65 and cuts of 5 to 10 percent in pensions of more than 1,000 euros a month.

Tough decisions either way

By tightening the belt even further, the government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hopes to convince the troika - Greece's creditor committee, which includes the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - to grant it the next slice of an international bailout.

Samaras has warned that without the next tranche, worth 31.5 billion euros, Greece could become insolvent by the middle of November.

"Today we vote on whether we will remain in the eurozone or return to international isolation, meet complete bankruptcy and end up in the drachma," Samaras said to lawmakers on Wednesday night.

The troika is expected to announce its decision to release more funds to Greece on November 12.

kms/mkg (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)