Clashes mar peaceful Athens protest rally

Riot police fired tear gas at youths hurling rocks near the Greek Finance Ministry on Tuesday, trying to quell the anger unleashed by a general strike as Parliament debated new cost-cutting measures.

The latest austerity measures must pass in two parliamentary votes on Wednesday and Thursday if Greece is to receive bailout funds from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to stave off a possible default in July. If the votes don?t pass, Greece could become the first eurozone nation to default on its debts, sending shock waves through the global economy.

The clashes with police came at the start of a two-day strike called by unions furious that the new 28-billion-euro ($40 billion) austerity program will slap taxes on minimum wage earners and other struggling Greeks. The measures come on top of other spending cuts and tax hikes that have sent Greek unemployment soaring to over 16 percent.

?The situation that the workers are undergoing is tragic and we are near poverty levels,? Spyros Linardopoulos, a protester with the Greek Communist Party-affiliated PAME union blockading the port of Piraeus, told The Associated Press. ?The government has declared war and to this war we will answer back with war.?

Hooded youths ripped up paving stones and set trash bins on fire in central Athens as police gave chase and fired tear gas and stun grenades. Earlier, about 20,000 people had marched peacefully in two separate demonstrations, while another 7,000 protested in the northern port city of Thessaloniki without incident.

The clashes between the hooded youths and the riot police, who launched large quantities of tear gas and stun grenades to dispurse the violent protesters, also dispersed several hundred members of the Indignant movement, who have been camped out on Syntagma Square for over a month. A few protesters, a report on Skai Television said, were lightly injured as they ran away from the part of the square where the clashes were most violent.

Reports also said that three riot police officers were being treated for injuries sustained during the clashes. [AP/Skai]

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