Over 20,000 march in Athens to protest austerity measures
More than 20,000 protesters marched through Athens to parliament yesterday as unions challenged Greece's painful austerity measures with their fourth general strike this year.
Two separate rallies ended peacefully, but city officials and shopkeepers had taken extensive precautions in case the protests turned violent, like the one two weeks ago in which a bank was set on fire, killing three people inside.
Store owners closed up and lowered protective shutters before the march got under way, and police deployed 1,700 officers and detained 36 people in an early show of force.
Demonstrators outside the parliament building banged pots and pans and shouted "Thieves, thieves!" but did not attempt to breach a cordon of riot police holding them back.
The strike closed schools, halted ferries and trains, and kept hospitals running with only emergency staff. The Acropolis and other ancient sites in Athens were also shut.
Premier George Papandreou, visiting Lebanon, said he sympathised with many of the protesters.
"The Greek people are understandably voicing their views about the economic crisis, and it is painful," Mr Papandreou said.
"We also know that we must move ahead with these changes in order to make the country a viable economy, a competitive economy."
Unions are protesting steep cuts imposed by the cash-strapped government.
Public anger has grown at deep pension and salary cuts, as well as steep tax hikes, imposed in an attempt to pull Greece out of an unprecedented debt crisis.
The measures were needed for Greece to receive a €110bn three-year rescue loan package from other EU countries and the International Monetary Fund that staved off bankruptcy.