Gangs of self-styled anarchists in hoods used Molotov cocktails to torch shops in central Athens as well as two historic cinemas, the Apollo and Attikon, as MPs debated a new debt deal in Parliament on Sunday night.
Hooded youths smashed the facades of several stores and witnesses reported instances of looting. Earlier, groups of youths had clashed with police, pelting them with rocks and firebombs. Police responded by firing large clouds of acrid tear gas.
Branches of major foreign chains and banks were targeted with a branch of Starbucks among those to go up in flames.
The arsonists were a small section of a large peaceful crowd. A police spokesman put the crowd numbers at 60,000 while unions claimed the real number was really double that. A spokesman for the Athens police said that several demonstrators and police had been injured in street-fighting but could not give final numbers. ?There?s still a lot of tension,? he said.
Local media said that dozens of people had been injured while the Greek ambulance service said 24 people had been taken to hospital.
The unrest came as lawmakers prepared to vote on a new debt deal agreed between Greece and its foreign creditors.
Historic cinemas, cafes and shops went up in flames in central Athens on Sunday as black-masked protesters fought Greek police outside parliament, while inside lawmakers looked set to defy the public rage by endorsing a new EU/IMF austerity deal.
On the streets many businesses were ablaze, including the neo-classical home to the Attikon cinema dating from 1870 and a building housing the Asty, an underground cinema used by the Gestapo during World War Two as a torture chamber.
As fighting raged for hours, protesters threw home made bombs made from gas canisters as riot police advanced across the square on the crowds, firing tear gas and stun grenades. Loud booms from the protests could be heard inside parliament.
“Enough is enough!» said 89-year-old Manolis Glezos, one of Greece’s most famous leftists. «They have no idea what an uprising by the Greek people means. And the Greek people, regardless of ideology, have risen.”
Glezos is a national hero for sneaking up the Acropolis at night in 1941 and tearing down a Nazi flag from under the noses of the German occupiers, raising the morale of Athens residents.
“These measures of annihilation will not pass,» Glezos said on Syntagma Square, visibly overcome by teargas and holding a mask over his mouth.