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Hundreds clash with riot police as mass protest turns violent

Hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens yesterday as an anti-cuts rally sank into violence outside parliament where the government was seeking support for even tougher measures.

Tear gas blanketed the capital's main Syntagma Square, where more than 25,000 people had gathered to protest over a new package of tax rises and spending cuts.

Youths smashed the windows of a luxury hotel on the square, and ripped up paving stones to throw at police.

Demonstrators said at least 10 people were injured, and they appealed to fellow protesters to stay calm and allow ambulances through.

The protests are the centre of a crisis that could end in a disastrous debt default that would threaten the future of the eurozone and shake financial markets just as the global economy struggles to recover.

The violence adds public pressure on the government at a time when Prime Minister George Papandreou also faces a rebellion from within his party over the new measures. But the new bill must be passed this month if Greece is to continue tapping its rescue loans.

In Athens, sporadic clashes on the fringes of the rally gradually spread.


Police had set up a massive security operation to ensure protesters could not carry out a pledge to prevent MPs from accessing parliament. Some 5,000 officers, including hundreds of riot and motorcycle police, used parked buses and crowd barriers to prevent protesters from encircling the building, while a large part of central Athens was closed to all traffic.

The protests in Athens and in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where another 20,000 people rallied peacefully, were part of a 24-hour general strike, the result of months of growing frustration over the country's slide.

The latest austerity drive has brought many people on to the streets for the first time.

"What can we do? We have to fight, for our children and for us," said Dimitra Nteli, a nurse at a state hospital who was at the protest with her daughter. "After 25 years of work I earn €1,100 a month. Now that will drop to €900. How can we live on that?"

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