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Three killed as anti-austerity strike turns violent

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-05-06

Three people were killed Wednesday when an Athens bank caught fire after youths pelted buildings with petrol bombs to protest against government budget-slashing plans. The planned cuts are part of an effort to stem Greece's spiraling debt crisis.

Three people were killed when a bank in the Greek capital of Athens caught fire Wednesday during a day of violent demonstrations against austerity cuts required to avert a financial meltdown.

Two women and a man died inside a branch of the Marfin bank after hooded youths hurled petrol bombs at offices and stores in the heart of Athens, setting several of them aflame.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou condemned the killings as a "raw murderous act" and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.

Q&A: The Greek crisis explained

Reporting from the Greek capital, FRANCE 24’s Nathalie Savaricas said clashes broke out Wednesday when protesters headed toward the country’s parliament building. “They started heckling the parliamentarians there, calling them thieves and trying to storm parliament. That’s when it all happened,” she said.

In the worst violence since the Socialist government came to power in October, protesters pelted police with pieces of marble and bottles. A huge plume of smoke could be seen rising from Stadiou Avenue in downtown Athens, where the two-storey commercial building that houses the Marfin bank was burning. Police officials said two other buildings in the centre of the Greek capital had also been set on fire during the protest.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Athens and Salonica Wednesday to protest spending cuts and tax rises necessary for Greece to secure a 110 billion euro bailout. Parliament is due to vote on tough austerity cuts, including wage freezes, pension cuts and tax rises, later this week. The aim of the cuts is to reduce Greece’s public debt from the current 13.6% of GDP to less than 3% by 2014.

"Our country has reached the edge of the abyss," President Carolos Papoulias said in a statement on Wednesday.
  
"It is the responsibility of us all to not take the step into the void," he added.

The country ground to a virtual standstill Wednesday as public transportation workers joined other public sector workers who have been striking since Tuesday. Private sector workers have also joined the strike, grinding most of the country to a virtual halt with hospitals running on skeletal staff.

The austerity measures come as the German parliament began considering the bailout plan for Greece.

Germany is expected to provide the largest contribution to the bailout, but the move is widely unpopular among politicians and ordinary Germans.

Greece has been hit by three general strikes since the start of the year as popular discontent over measures to tackle the financial crisis have mounted.

 

Date created : 2010-05-05

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