Greece strike: Police and protesters clash in Athens

A protester explains why she is against the austerity measures in Greece

Dozens of stone-throwing youths have clashed with police in Athens as public sector workers went out on strike in protest at Greece's austerity measures.

The 24-hour strike saw flights and ferry services cancelled, government offices and tourist sites closed, and hospitals working with reduced staff.

Many strikers expressed frustration and anger at the cuts.

The European Commission is discussing ways of propping up banks in Europe to protect them from the Greek crisis.

The general strike is the first since the Greek government announced an emergency property tax and the suspension of 30,000 public sector staff last month.

But despite these measures, the government has failed to cut its deficit to 7.5% of economic output (GDP) - a target it must meet if it is to receive the next instalment of bailout money from the EU.

Meanwhile, in its latest report on the European economy, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that economic growth is in danger of petering out and a global recession in the coming year cannot be ruled out.

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We believe, as workers, that patriotism is to respond with actions”

End Quote Dimitris Kizilis Protester

Global financial markets have been in turmoil over fears that Greece could default on its debt, most of which is held by European banks. In other developments:

  • On Tuesday, Moody's ratings agency slashed Italy's credit rating from Aa2 to A2, blaming an overall loss in confidence in eurozone governments.
  • Despite the Italian downgrade, European markets rose sharply as trading opened on Wednesday.
  • Belgium and France are working on plans to rescue the Franco-Belgian Dexia bank, which is exposed to Greek debt.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said again that Greece must remain a member of the eurozone.
'Lives ruined'

The government says the stringent austerity measures cannot be avoided if the country is to reduce its deficit of 8.5%.

At the scene

It is a very noisy demonstration indeed here, certainly the biggest demonstration by Greece's public sector in several weeks. The country has ground to a halt.

All of these people are extremely angry at the austerity measures that the government is desperately trying to push through to qualify for the next instalment of its international bailout, in order to stave off bankruptcy and avoid defaulting on its debts.

The government says it is in a very difficult position, because it must pursue its austerity drive to meet its fiscal targets and reduce the budget deficit to avoid bankruptcy within the next few weeks.

But this wave of social unrest is growing by people who say the measures are deepening the recession, stagnating the economy and stunting Greece's growth.

But the measures are hugely unpopular and have led to a wave of strikes and protests.

Tens of thousands of people stayed away from work across Greece. In central Athens, at least 16,000 marched to Syntagma Square to join a demonstration outside parliament.

Although most of the protests were peaceful, police fired tear gas at small groups of demonstrators who were throwing stones.

About 10,000 people marched in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Critics of the austerity drive say it is deepening the recession, stunting Greece's growth - the economy will shrink 5.5% this year - and stopping the country from being able to reduce its government debt itself.

Protesters also say they are unfairly bearing the burden of the country's debt.

"This is an opportunity for the Greek people, whether in the public or in the private sector, to fight this, to deny this logic that we must bow our heads all the time to save the country and show patriotism," said 37-year-old protester Dimitris Kizilis.

"We believe, as workers, that patriotism is to respond with actions."

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There are some European regulators and politicians who regard the downgrade of Italy and the woes of the Franco-Belgian bank Dexia as positive events (oh yes) ”

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Stathis Anestis, a spokesman for Greece's main union the GSEE, said the new measures were "just extending the unfair and barbaric policies which suck dry workers' rights and revenues, and push the economy deeper into recession and debt".

"With this strike, the government, the EU and the IMF will be forced to reconsider these disastrous policies," he told Reuters.

Greek civil servant and trade unionist Tiana Andreou told the BBC that people's lives had been ruined.

"We have decided that we're going to stop this."

Some militant civil servants are promising to sabotage the moves. On Tuesday, protesters again blocked the entrance to several government departments, including the finance and transport ministries.

The government says it has enough cash to pay pensions, salaries and bondholders until mid-November, having previously said it needed more money by mid-October to avoid a default.

Empty railway station during Greece's general strike

Inspectors from the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission - known collectively as the troika - have been in Greece this week to assess its financial situation.

But eurozone finance ministers have delayed a decision on handing over the money, after Greece said it would not meet this year's deficit-cutting plan.

The government admitted that the budget deficit will stand at 8.5% this year, rather than the 7.5% target.

On Wednesday, the IMF's European chief Antonio Borges said there was no rush for the second bailout, and that he was "confident negotiations will come to a positive conclusion".

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