Greek police have clashed with protesters as tens of thousands of people gathered in Athens and other cities to demonstrate against austerity measures to tame public debt.
The clash began in Athens after a group of 50 young demonstrators were seen trying to approach a row of luxury hotels on central Syntagma Square.
As police fired tear gas to push them back, another 250 people according to authorities broke apart from the main body of demonstrators to throw stones and a few firebombs at officers, as the protest began to melt away in disarray.
Two photographers were injured in the process and three people arrested.
Some 20 shops in the surrounding area had their windows smashed, police said.
Thousands turn out to protest
The demonstrations drawing around 27,000 people in Athens and 7,000 in the second city of Thessaloniki, according to police estimates, were held amid a general strike that shut down Greece.
They came as the embattled Socialist government talks with European and IMF officials on reining in a runaway deficit and a mountain of debt that has undermined confidence in the euro.
Schools, government offices and courthouses were all closed while there was also major disruption to public transport, banks, hospitals and state-owned companies.
Athens’ metro and bus lines did run a skeleton service to allow strikers to get to the street demonstrations.
The main archaeological sites and museums, including the Acropolis in Athens, shut their doors as well.
The General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), which represents around a million members, said participation in the strike “was close to 100 per cent in many areas of work”.
‘Strong message of unity’
“Today, from all locations in the country, a strong message of unity, struggle and protest is being sent,” GSEE chairman Yiannis Panagopoulos said in a statement.
“Today Greece is the guinea pig for EU stability and the euro’s resilience. Today it is Greece, tomorrow it will be Spain, Portugal and Italy,” he said.
The protesters were joined by the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), John Monks, who said: “The European Union should do more to help Greece.”
“For the time being they are threatening to withdraw their support and this could create an anti-EU sentiment among Greeks,” he warned.
Many of those who stayed away from work joined the demonstrations against the government, which is trying to raise revenue through new taxes and save money through public sector benefit cuts and hiring freezes.
Some protesters carried signs calling on the authorities to “tax the rich” instead and noted that the strike was also targeting “speculators” after a run against Greek bonds that has sharply pushed up the country’s borrowing costs.
Others marched with banners criticising the “plutocracy”.
The ADEDY civil servants union, whose 300,000 members are seen as the main target of the cost-cutting drive, were at the vanguard of the strike action, which was also backed by the national journalists’ union.