Huge turnout in anti-austerity rally, marred by clashes

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday for one of the largest anti-austerity demonstrations in recent years but the rally was marred by outbreaks of violence and looting.

The protests came as the country?s two main labor unions launched a two-day general strike to protest the latest raft of austerity measures heralded by the debt-stricken government.

The police said there were around 70,000 protesters but many media reports put the figure above 100,000. Police said 16 officers were injured, many by stone-throwing demonstrators, and reported that three demonstrators were hurt.

As usual, the trouble was caused by a few hundred youths who pelted riot police with stones and Molotov cocktails and smashed up several store facades. At one point, one of the special guard?s sentry boxes outside Parliament was set alight. One group of attackers pelted police with chunks of stone hacked from the sidewalks. Others showered officers with armfuls of rotting garbage – which has accumulated over the past three weeks due to a protest by municipal trash collectors. Demonstrations in Thessaloniki, Patra and Iraklio were also mostly peaceful, though scuffles were reported in Thessaloniki.

The strike, which continues today, caused much disruption for commuters and travelers, with most flights canceled, railway routes suspended and ferries moored in port, though public transport workers ran a limited service. Schools closed, hospitals operated on skeleton staffs and even shopkeepers and gas station managers joined the walkout.

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