Hundreds of rioting youths smashed and looted stores in central
Outside parliament, demonstrators hurled chunks of marble and petrol bombs at riot police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.
Police said at least 14 officers were hospitalized with injuries. At least three journalists covering the demonstrations sustained minor injuries.
The violence spread across the city center, as at least 100,000 people marched through the Greek capital on the first day of a two-day general strike that unions described as the largest protest in years.
Police and rioters held running battles through the narrow streets of central
The strike, which grounded flights, disrupted public transport and shut down shops and schools, came before a parliamentary vote late on Thursday on new tax increases and spending cuts.
International creditors have demanded the reforms before they give
Most of the protesters who converged in central
A petrol bomb set fire to a presidential guard sentry post at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside Parliament, while running clashes broke out in several side streets near the legislature and the capital's main
Nearby, groups of hooded, masked protesters tore chunks of marble off building fronts with hammers and crowbars and smashed windows and bank signs. Scuffles also broke out among rioters and demonstrators trying to prevent youths from destroying storefronts and banks along the march route.
Vendors sold swimming goggles to rioters, who used them to ward off the tear gas.
Thousands of people watched the skirmishes, some standing on kiosk roofs to get a better view. Trash was strewn around the streets, and some protesters set clumps of it on fire.
All sectors from dentists, hospital doctors and lawyers to shop owners, tax office workers, pharmacists, teachers and dock workers walked off the job before a parliamentary vote Thursday on new austerity measures which include new taxes and the suspension of tens of thousands of civil servants.
Flights were grounded in the morning but some resumed at noon after air traffic controllers scaled back their strike plan from 48 hours to 12. Dozens of domestic and international flights were still canceled. Ferries remained tied up in port, while public transport workers staged work stoppages but kept buses, trolleys and the Athens subway system running to help protesters.
In Parliament, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told lawmakers that Greeks had no choice but to accept the hardship.
"We have to explain to all these indignant people who see their lives changing that what the country is experiencing is not the worst stage of the crisis," he said. "It is an anguished and necessary effort to avoid the ultimate, deepest and harshest level of the crisis. The difference between a difficult situation and a catastrophe is immense."
About 3,000 police deployed in central
"We just can't take it any more. There is desperation, anger and bitterness," said Nikos Anastasopoulos, head of a workers' union for an
Other municipal workers said they had no option but to take to the streets.
"We can't make ends meet for our families," said protester Eleni Voulieri. "We've lost our salaries, we've lost everything and we're in danger of losing our jobs."
Demonstrations during a similar 48-hour strike in June left the center of
Piles of garbage festered on
Protesting civil servants have also staged rounds of sit-ins at government buildings, with some, including the Finance Ministry, under occupation for days.
Most stores in the city center, including bakeries and kiosks were shut Wednesday. Several shop owners said they had received threats that their stores would be smashed if they attempted to open.
The measures to be voted on come after more than a year and a half of repeated spending cuts and tax increases. They include new tax hikes, further pension and salary cuts, the suspension on reduced pay of 30,000 public servants and the suspension of collective labor contracts.
A communist party-backed union has vowed to encircle Parliament Thursday in an attempt to prevent deputies from entering the building for the vote.
The reforms have been so unpopular that even some lawmakers from the governing Socialists have indicated they might vote against them.
Meanwhile, European countries are trying to work out a broad solution to the continent's deepening debt crisis, before a weekend summit in
But key details of that rescue fund, including the participation of the private sector, remain to be worked out.
First in Greece they had peaceful demonstrations. Then the arrests began. The government failed to listen to the people. Then began the violence.
Here in America, the demonstrations and arrests have already begun. Next up is the violence and riots. It is coming comrades, have no doubt of that. Just give it some more time. Things are worse in Greece than here, but we'll catch up sooner or later. Probably sooner than later at the rate things are deteriorating.
I want to make it plain that I'm not advocating any sort of violence, but we must be ready if - no - when it happens. When it comes, always think before you act. Let's not do anything stupid in the heat of the moment. Self-defense, YES! Pointless violence, NO!
Pointless violence only serves the enemy. The ANP is a revolutionary organization. Revolutions are organized. Riots aren't. Protect yourself and your family by all means, but save the offensive violence for the revolution. It's going to happen. When it does, we'll need to be ready. Until that time, let's stay on the right side of the law. You can do more good for the cause on the outside, than rotting inside of one of ZOG's gulags.