Thousands of Greeks rally in anti-austerity strike
By Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas
ATHENS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday as part of a nationwide strike against austerity that confined ferries to ports, shut schools and left hospitals with only emergency staff.
Beating drums, blowing whistles and chanting "Robbers, robbers!" more than 60,000 people angry at wage cuts and tax rises marched to parliament in the biggest protest for months over austerity policies required by international lenders.
In the capital, riot police fired tear gas at hooded youths hurling rocks and bottles during a demonstration, mostly of students and pensioners, which ended peacefully.
The two biggest labor unions brought much of crisis-hit Greece to a standstill with a 24-hour protest strike against policies which they say deepen the hardship of people struggling through the country's worst peacetime downturn.
Representing 2.5 million workers, the unions have gone on strike repeatedly since a debt crisis erupted in late 2009, testing the government's will to impose the painful conditions of an international bailout in the face of growing public anger.
"Today's strike is a new effort to get rid of the bailout deal and those who take advantage of the people and bring only misery," said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the ADEDY public sector union, which organized the walkout along with private sector union GSEE.
"A social explosion is very near," he told Reuters from a rally in a central Athens square as police helicopters clattered overhead.
The eight-month-old coalition of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has been eager to show it will implement reforms promised to the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which have bailed Athens out twice with over 200 billion euros. Continued...