A rally in the Greek capital turned violent when protesters in Syntagma Square lobbed Molotov cocktails at police, who retaliated by firing tear gas at the demonstrators.
Security forces also reportedly used flashbang grenades and pepper spray to push protesters back from the parliament building. According to Greek newspaper Kathimerin, the police had been ordered to orders to refrain from using chemicals against protesters.
It’s as thousands gathered in front of parliament for the country’s biggest anti-austerity protest since the new government came to power. Clashes erupted in different parts of Athens Syntagma Square, with demonstrators throwing fire bombs at police.
Witnesses reported smoke rising over the square as security forces dispersed most of the protesters. Some remained, and continued the demonstration; others relocated.
Athens police have arrested at least 20 protesters so far, local media report. Some sources suggest over 100 people have got detained. Besides Syntagma Square, arrests were maded after members of the radical leftist party Syriza clashed with riot police in the streets of Panepistimiou and Benaki. Police allegedly used stun grenades again to disperse the hooded youths.
Several injuries are reported in Athens as calm gets restored. The general strike halted transit and other industries nationwide. As many as 350,000 Greeks have poured out into streets across the country, estimates the civil servants union ADEDY.
Around 18,000 demonstrators also marched through the city of Thessaloniki. Greeks wrote on Twitter that large numbers of protesters are rallying peacefully in the streets.
The protest came after calls by the country’s two largest trade unions, representing half of Greece’s workers, for a 24-hour general strike. In Athens, over 34,000 people took to streets chanting: “EU, IMF Out!“. Flights and trains were suspended, shops were shuttered and the hospitals were forced to rely on emergency staffing.
Some 3,000 police officers – double the usual number – were deployed in the capital of Athens to counter the protesters.
Greece recently enacted a new round of spending cuts, totaling €11.5 billion ($15 billion). The austerity measures are a precondition for another rescue loan from the European Central Bank; without the bailout, Greece could face bankruptcy in a matter of weeks.
“The new measures are unbearable, unfair and only worsen the crisis. We are determined to fight until we win,”Costas Tsikrikas, head of the ADEDY public sector union told Reuters. “We call on all workers to join us in the march against the policies that the troika is imposing.”
Greece is currently grappling with record unemployment levels, with over 30 percent of the country living below the poverty line. The Greek government is planning to reduce pensions and increase the retirement age to 67 to cope with the country’s budget crisis.
Two weeks ago, anger over Greece’s new austerity measures spilled into the streets, with thousands protesting the drastic proposed budget cuts. In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, youths set fire to debris and burned an EU flag, and then clashed with riot police. Some 2,000 pensioners also marched through Athens to protest the newly introduced pension cuts.