Protests in Greece grow violent as austerity plan nears vote
REPORTING FROM ATHENS -– Furious protesters hurled homemade firebombs, rocks and garbage at police in Athens on Wednesday, as Greek lawmakers prepared to vote on a new batch of budget cuts necessary to stave off a government default.
The violence came on the first day of a two-day general strike across Greece. Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on Athens' main square to show their opposition to the austerity plan, chanting: "We can't bleed any longer!"
Police fired percussion grenades to quell the violence.
Across Greece, buses, trains and ferries came to a standstill, and scores of flights were disrupted. For the first time, small businesses such as bakeries and convenience stores joined the strike action, which was organized by the country's two biggest labor unions.
In Athens, thousands of workers, not all of them from the unions, poured into the streets and marched on parliament, where lawmakers have begun debating the latest round of austerity measures, including a rash of tax hikes and wage and salary cuts for 2011 and 2012. There were protests in other cities as well.
Approving the measures in a vote Thursday is considered imperative if Athens is to receive an $11-billion installment of rescue loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Without the funds, the Greek government could go bankrupt within weeks. Prime Minister George Papandreou urged lawmakers to adopt "a stance of responsibility" and pass the austerity plan.
The vote precedes a potentially make-or-break EU summit this weekend at which leaders are expected to unveil a new arsenal of measures to battle the long-running debt crisis that threatens the euro currency.
-- Anthee Carassava
Photo: A firebomb explodes near riot police during protests in downtown Athens on Wednesday. Credit: Dimitri Messinis / Associated Press