Police battle demonstrators in strike-hit Greece

ATHENS: Greek police battled demonstrators in Athens on Thursday as the country ground to a halt in the latest strike against government austerity measures aiming to end a crippling debt crisis.

Police fired tear gas to break up groups of youths outside parliament where unions had called a demonstration.

There were clashes in other parts of Athens where dozens of hooded youths threw firebombs and stones at police and burned a car, before security forces fired back more tear gas.

About 300 protesters attacked police and vandalised a dozen stores in the area near the Athens Polytechnic, police said.

In the northern city of Thessaloniki, protesters threw eggs and yoghurt cartons stolen from a supermarket at a government building, police said.

Unions called out more than one million people on strike in the latest challenge to draconian spending cuts by the Socialist government aiming to reduce the public deficit of 12.7 per cent of output and a debt mountain of nearly 300 billion euros.

The stoppage crippled public transport and closed schools, hospitals and government offices.

Several thousands gathered at several points across Athens holding banners blasting the socialist government and the European Union, which is pressing Greece to enforce even tougher measures.

“Even if they terrorise us, the measures will not pass through,” one banner proclaimed. Another said: “We are men, not numbers.”

The strikers shouted:

“Europe must change or it will sink.” “Down with the stabilisation programme,” and “War with capitalists, that’s the response of the workers.”

No buses or trams ran and only one underground train line was operational in the capital.

Health centres treated only emergencies.

Air traffic controllers walked off the job at midnight and ships were anchored as port workers joined the strike call by two powerful unions.

The national news agency ANA stopped its tickers for 24 hours and newspaper staff stopped working.

Tax and garbage collectors have been on strike since the start of the week.

Christos Fotopoulos, head of a police union, told AFP officers were taking part in rallies in uniform as “the governmental measures are painful and they erase bonuses which account for 50 percent of our salary.”

Uniformed police and firefighters won sustained applause from bystanders.