Business

Man dies as fighting between protesters grips Athens

  • 20 October 2011
  • From the section Business

One man has died after ferocious battles erupted between rival anti-austerity protesters at a large rally outside the Greek parliament in Athens.

A Greek deputy minister told Reuters news agency the protester had died of a heart attack and had not been hurt during the clashes.

The violence came as MPs voted narrowly to give final approval to the government's latest austerity package.

The country is in the grip of a 48-hour general strike in protest at the cuts.

The government's bill, which includes tax hikes and pay cuts, is needed to secure EU and IMF bailout loans.

Civil servants, shopkeepers, dock workers, taxi drivers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, construction workers and others were all due to take part in the strike, which began on Wednesday.

'No way'

The dead man was identified by Greek media as a middle-aged trade unionist.

"The demonstrator died of a heart attack," Deputy Citizens Protection Minister Manolis Othonas told Reuters. "He was not hurt in the incidents."

At least 16 other people were hurt in the fighting, as masked youths battled the communist-backed trade unionists near luxury hotels on the square.

Some people had their clothes set on fire by petrol bombs, others bled from injuries after apparently being hit by stones or sticks.

One trade unionist was reportedly seized and beaten by a group of rioters.

On Wednesday, at least 40 people had been injured in running battles in central Athens.

An estimated 50,000 protesters gathered on Syntagma Square, in front of parliament, on Thursday.

The bill includes plans for further cuts to pensions and salaries and temporary lay-offs of 30,000 public sector workers.

One member of the ruling Socialist party, Louka Katseli, voted against the measures, earning instant expulsion from the party by Prime Minister George Papandreou.

With Greece unable to borrow long term on international bond markets to finance its debt, the EU and IMF have stepped in with two bailout packages.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos described the choice as between a "difficult situation and a catastrophe".

"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."

There are fears that if the Greek government defaults on its debts, it will set off a chain reaction that could engulf banks and other highly indebted eurozone nations.

But the government is struggling to convince lenders that it is cutting effectively enough. Greece says it needs the next 8bn euros ($11bn; £7bn) of the first bailout agreed to last year or it will soon be unable to pay its bills.

The details of the second rescue plan have yet to be finalised. Banks have agreed to take a 21% loss, or "haircut", on their loans to Greece but there is growing pressure for them to accept higher losses.

European leaders and global finance chiefs are trying to work out a broader plan to tackle the eurozone's debt crisis ahead of a weekend summit in Brussels.