ATHENS - Clashes have broken out between demonstrators and
police at a protest against government spending cuts in Athens, the
Riot police fired tear gas at activists chanting "burn parliament" on
Tuesday, just hours before politicians were to begin debating a pension
reform to tackle the nation's debt crisis.
Dozens of masked youths threw chunks of marble
and petrol bombs, and set rubbish bins on fire, while running clashes
continued along a major avenue lined with shuttered shops and banks.
About 10,000 people took part in marches across the city as a
nationwide strike hit public transport and services.
"We have again taken to the streets. We are
striking, we are resisting the slaughtering of our rights," Ilias
Vrettakos, a vice president of the main public sector union, said.
Earlier, authorities tried to prevent hundreds of
Communist-affiliated strikers stopping tourists boarding ships bound for
the Greek islands.
The recurring labour unrest has cost Greece booking many
cancellations and millions of euros in damages at a time when the
debt-hit nation is struggling to maximise its revenues and revive its
"Greek islanders are counting on the next month for
funds," Manolis Galanakis, deputy chairman of Greek coastal shipping
associations, told Mega television.
Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Athens, said tear gas
had been dispersed to dispel crowds at the port.
"There were some quite dramatic scenes this morning with tear gas
being fired by the police, dispersing trade unions, many tourists
running away very frightened," he said.
"Precisely not the kind of images Greece needs as it tries to get the
tourist industry reinvigorated, after it got off to a slow start after
all the trouble throughout the spring."
Local media, schools,
banks and municipal offices have been shut down during the strike - the
fifth walkout by major public and private sector unions this year.
Hospitals operated with emergency staff and public offices were
About 60 domestic flights were also cancelled but
international flights were unaffected.
Many Greeks do not believe the government's financial measures
will yield a positive outcome.
"These measures will not help. They will only lead to deeper
recession and poverty," Despina Spanou, board member of the public
sector union ADEDY, said.
"Workers will clearly answer the government and this reform which
abolishes social security."
However, the government insists the spending cuts are vital.
"We deeply believe what we are doing is in the interests of the Greek
people," George Petalotis, a government spokesman, said.
The southern European country avoided bankruptcy last month after
receiving the first instalment payment of a $136bn emergency loan
package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
In return, Athens has passed severe austerity measures, including
cutting pensions and salaries and raising consumer taxes.