Violence escalates after austerity vote

Violence escalated in central Athens on Wednesday after Parliament approved a new package of austerity measures with reports of dozens of protesters and police officers being injured in running battles.

Red Cross volunteer doctors told Skai TV that some 500 people were treated for injuries and breathing problems, as police came in for criticism for making heavy use of tear gas. More than 30 protesters were taken to the hospital. Police defended their use of chemicals, saying that some 500 rioters were intent on causing trouble at various spots in central Athens.

Amnesty International issued a press released condemning ?excessive force? by police and overuse of tear gas. ?Video footage and witness testimony points to the repeated use of excessive force by police in recent demonstrations, including the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of tear gas and other chemicals against largely peaceful protesters,? the statement said.

Media reports said dozens of protesters had been hurt. A spokeswoman for the police in Athens said that 30 police officers had been injured but could not give a figure for demonstrators. By early evening, 29 people had been detained, nine leading to arrests, police said.

Red Cross doctors treating injured demonstrators in Syntagma Square said they were chased off by police officers.

Meanwhile there were several reports of demonstrators breaking into the offices of ruling PASOK and a bank branch. Witnesses reported seeing a crowd of around 30 youths set up ladders against the facade of a branch of Eurobank on Syntagma Square in what appeared to be a thwarted arson attack. The youths were pushed back by riot police officers who were able to stop then from burning the offices, the witnesses said.

At around the same time, unidentified intruders broke into the PASOK offices in the Cretan ports of Hania and Iraklio and vandalized the premises without causing any injuries to the party members and staff.

The King George Hotel, which is located on Syntagma Square, was briefly evacuated because of the violence.

A group of around 20 protesters hurled bottles and a chair at Alexandros Athanassiadis, a PASOK MP who originally had intended to vote down the austerity measures but who backtracked and voted in favor. Athanasiadis was attacked while being escorted by police officers from the parliament building. A police spokesman said the MP was not injured in the attack.

A senior member of the country’s municipal workers’ union, Giorgos Harisis, was hospitalized after an attack that, according to witnesses, involved several police officers. Harisis reportedly suffered head injuries after being struck by clubs. A statement issued by the union, known by its acronym POE-OTA, condemned «the violent and indiscriminate attacks that have been ordered by the powers that be on protesting municipal workers.»

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