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Clashes erupt as thousands rally in Athens, firebombs set national park ablaze

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A rally in the Greek capital turned violent when protesters in Syntagma Square lobbed Molotov cocktails at police. Thousands gathered in front of parliament for the country’s biggest anti-austerity protest since the new government came to power.

Sporadic clashes erupted in different parts of Athens Syntagma Square, with demonstrators throwing fire bombs at police.

Witnesses reported smoke rising over the square as security forces dispersed most of the protesters. Some remained, and continued the demonstration.

The general strike halted transit and other industries nationwide.

Thousands of demonstrators also marched through the city of Thessaloniki. Greeks wrote on Twitter that large numbers of protesters are rallying peacefully in the streets.

Watch our live feed of the protest here.

The protest came after calls by the country’s two largest trade unions, representing half of Greece’s workers, for a 24-hour general strike. Flights and trains were suspended, shops were shuttered and the hospitals were forced to rely on emergency staffing.

Some 3,000 police officers – double the usual number – were deployed in the capital of Athens to counter the protesters.

Greece recently enacted a new round of spending cuts, totaling €11.5 billion ($15 billion). The austerity measures are a precondition for another rescue loan from the European Central Bank; without the bailout, Greece could face bankruptcy in a matter of weeks.

“The new measures are unbearable, unfair and only worsen the crisis. We are determined to fight until we win,” Costas Tsikrikas, head of the ADEDY public sector union told Reuters. “We call on all workers to join us in the march against the policies that the troika is imposing.”

Greece is currently grappling with record unemployment levels, with over 30 percent of the country living below the poverty line.

The Greek government is planning to reduce pensions and increase the retirement age to 67 to cope with the country’s budget crisis.

Two weeks ago, anger over Greece’s new austerity measures spilled into the streets, with thousands protesting the drastic proposed budget cuts.

In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, youths set fire to debris and burned an EU flag, and then clashed with riot police. Some 2,000 pensioners also marched through Athens to protest the newly introduced pension cuts.

Last February, the country witnessed days of violent clashes in several cities, with police using tear gas and protesters throwing petrol bombs and stones.


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