Greek President Carolos Papoulias has condemned the violent demonstrations which left three people dead on Wednesday, and warned that the crisis-hit country is on “the edge of the abyss”.
AFP - Greece's president called on the country to step back from the brink after three people died during Wednesday's protests against the government's planned cuts, and the world markets slipped further.
Greece stood on the "edge of the abyss," President Carolos Papoulias warned, after a general strike called by the unions and a day of often violent protests against the latest round of budget cuts and tax hikes.
"It is the responsibility of us all to not take the step into the void," Papoulias said.
"What is at stake in coming days is to keep social cohesion and social peace."
As protesters marched against the government's plans to avert national bankruptcy and the strike shut down much of the country, some demonstrations turned violent.
Demonstrators tried to storm the parliament and hooded youths hurled petrol bombs at stores and businesses in central Athens.
Police said two women and one man died at a branch of the Marfin bank which caught fire after rioters broke a window and threw Molotov cocktails inside. Around 20 more people had to be ushered to safety.
"The attackers wore hoods," witness Vassilis Hatziiakovou told Mega television.
"First they tried to torch our bookstore and then they threw two firebombs inside the bank."
Prime Minister George Papandreou angrily condemned the bank attack as a "raw murderous act".
"Protesting is one thing, killing is another," he told parliament.
At least two other buildings -- the Athens prefecture and one used by tax officials -- caught fire after other firebomb attacks on the margins of the protests.
The general strike was the first major test of the Socialist government's resolve to push through unprecedented measures since agreeing to an 110 billion euro (143 billion dollars) EU and IMF debt bailout at the weekend.
Papandreou's insistence that the measures were vital for the nation's survival failed to dissuade unions from paralysing public services.
"The Greek people have been called to make sacrifices while the rich pay nothing," said Yiannis Panagopoulos, head of the GSEE private sector union.
After rallying in two separate demonstrations in central Athens, unionists marched on parliament where a vote on the spending cuts and tax hikes will be held Thursday.
"They're taking everything from me, I don't know how I'm going to get by," said 61-year-old Anargyros Bizianis, a municipal worker in the Athens suburb of Piraeus who earns 900 euros a month.
Protestors tried to break through a police line in front of parliament, hurling stones and bottles of water. Officers responded with tear gas.
Full-scale clashes then erupted, with riot police trying to disperse the crowds with baton-charges and youths responding with stones, flares, smoke bombs and Molotov cocktails.
Youths also went on the rampage in other parts of the capital, with several dozen youths hurling petrol bombs at stores, smashing shop windows and bus shelters with iron bars.
Athens police chiefs mobilised all their forces, including those not on active duty, by declaring a general state of alert.
Officers arrested at least 12 people in Athens and another 37 in the northern city Thessaloniki where protestors targeted stores and banks in the city centre before riot police dispersed them.
Already Tuesday, a group of about 200 communists had stormed the Athens Acropolis, unfurling banners reading "Peoples of Europe, Rise Up."
One government official played down the unrest, saying that "for years there's been strikes and protests in this country without much consequence."
But world markets reacted with alarm.
Greek stocks closed down 3.9 percent, London's FTSE 100 index was down 1.28 percent to 5,341.93 points and other European stock markets also fell.
In New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average extended its losses from the previous day, falling 0.55 percent to close at 10,866.83.
And Japanese share prices fell 3.2 percent Thursday shortly after opening as investors returning to the market after a long holiday break were confronted with the chaos on the streets of Athens.
Pushed to the brink of default, the Greek government agreed last weekend to slash spending and jack up taxes in return for 110 billion euros in loans over three years from eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.
Among the major measures, the government is to cut 13th and 14th month bonus pay for civil servants and retirees; require three years more for pension contributions; and raise the retirement age for women to 65.
Greece mobilises against planned austerity measures
For the third time in three months, Greece was shut down by a general strike on May 5. Demonstrators brandish the Greek flag in front of the parliament building.
In the most violent day Greece has seen since the Socialists came to power in October 2009, close to 30,000 people gathered to protest austerity measures proposed by the government.
Tens of thousands of people mobilised for the largest anti-austerity protest to date, chanting slogans against the “IMF junta”. The International Monetary Fund and the European Union have offered Greece a bailout package contingent on severe budget cuts.
The strike shut down schools and administrative buildings, while workers at banks and in the public sector adopted a deliberate “go-slow” approach.
The police marshalled their forces to re-establish order in the streets of Athens, maintaining “a state of general alert” to control the unrest that led to the deaths of three people in a bank fire.
Dozens of young people threw Molotov cocktails at the Marfin bank in central Athens, setting it aflame with some 20 people still inside. Three people died in the fire that ensued.
A policeman throws a teargas canister during clashes between security forces and demonstrators.
Date created : 2010-05-06