A protester kicks away a gas canister during clashes with
riot police in central Athens. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
Greek police fired teargas and water cannon at protesters
hurling petrol bombs outside parliament in one of the biggest
rallies in months against the cuts the country must approve if
it is to secure aid and avert bankruptcy.
As lawmakers neared a vote on unpopular budget cuts and
labour reforms, the rally attended by about 100,000
disintegrated into violence, with protesters and riot police
fighting running battles in Syntagma Square.
More chaos reigned inside the assembly, where the session was
briefly interrupted when parliamentary workers went on strike
to protest against a clause that would have cut their
salaries. In a humiliating about-face, the government was
forced to cancel the measure to allow the session to resume.
Outside, loud booms rang out as protesters hurled petrol
bombs and rocks at police, who responded with teargas, stun
grenades and water cannons - the first time they had been
used in an anti-austerity protest. Billowing smoke and small
fires could be seen on a street next to parliament.
The violence erupted as a handful of protesters tried to
break through a barricade to enter parliament, where Prime
Minister Antonis Samaras is expected to scrape a win for the
belt-tightening measures despite opposition from within his
Earlier in the evening, Greeks outside the parliament braved
a downpour holding flags and banners saying "It's them or
us!" and "End this disaster!"
Protesters - some chanting "Fight! They're drinking our
blood" - packed the square and side streets in one of the
largest rallies seen in months.
Some held aloft huge Italian, Portuguese and Spanish flags in
solidarity with other nations enduring austerity.
"These measures are killing us little by little and lawmakers
in there don't give a damn," said Maria Aliferopoulou, a
52-year-old mother of two living on 1,000 euros a month.
"They are rich, they have everything and we have nothing and
are fighting for crumbs, for survival."
Public transport was halted, schools, banks and government
offices were shut and garbage piled up on streets on the
second day of a two-day national strike against the cuts.
Backed by the leftist opposition, unions say the measures
will hit the poor and spare the wealthy, while deepening a
five-year recession that has wiped out a fifth of the
country's output and driven unemployment to a record 25
The cuts and tax hikes expected to be worth 13.5 billion
euros are required to unlock a loan tranche of more than 31
billion euros ($40 billion) from the European Union and
International Monetary Fund bailout.
The vote is the biggest test for Samaras's government since
it came to power in June. A 'yes' will give Athens cash to
shore up its ailing banks and pay off debt due later this
ON THE BRINK
EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn
called on the Greek parliament to do its part in securing its
next tranche of bailout aid by passing the measures.
But protesters outside said they were on the brink.
"You live in constant fear and uncertainty. You never know
what's waiting for you around the corner," said Panos
Goutsis, 58, who works in a small corner shop in Athens.
"How many times will they tell us these are the last
measures? We're sick of hearing it."
Greeks have been angered by the relaxed approach consecutive
governments have taken towards catching tax cheats, with many
saying officials have dragged their feet on investigations to
protect a wealthy elite.
Following the publication last month of a list of more than
2,000 wealthy Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, the Swiss
government said on Wednesday it was hoping to clinch a swift
deal with Athens on taxing secret holdings.
The austerity measures being debated in parliament are
accompanied by steps to make it easier for businesses to hire
and fire workers.
The junior ruling Democratic Left party has refused to
support these, saying they undermine already eroded labour
rights. Several MPs from the second ruling party, Socialist
PASOK, have also wavered.
But Samaras's New Democracy and the remaining PASOK MPs
should be able to push the measures through, with around 155
of parliament's 300 votes.