16 Dec 2010

Greek police clash with anti-austerity protesters

8:32 am on 16 December 2010

Greek protesters clashed with police and set fire to cars and a hotel in central Athens on Wednesday as tens of thousands marched against austerity measures aimed at pulling the country out of a debt crisis.

Riot police responded with dozens of rounds of teargas in clashes that lasted more than an hour in the biggest and most violent march since three people died in protests in May.

As the march reached parliament, a crowd of protesters attacked former conservative minister Kostis Hatzidakis with their fists, stones and sticks, shouting: "Thieves! Shame on you!"

The opposition MP's face was covered in blood as he took shelter in a building,

Hours earlier, parliament had approved reforms and spending cuts that are a condition of a 110 billion euro European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout granted in May in exchange for austerity measures.

The measures cut wages in state-owned bus and railway companies and weaken the power of collective bargaining to permit company-level deals.

Striking public and private sector workers grounded flights, shut down schools and paralysed public transport and about 50,000 marched through the capital.

Cars in Syntagma Square were set alight, a fire started on the balcony of a luxury hotel after petrol bombs were thrown. Smoke and teargas covered the square and bystanders scrambled frantically to safety.

Ships remained docked at ports, hospitals were working on skeleton staff and ministries shut down as civil servants and private sector workers stayed away.

With public transport crippled, major roads to the centre of Athens were jammed as motorists struggled to get to work.