Clashes as Greeks go on strike

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Police clashed with stone-throwing youths in the Greek capital yesterday as tens of thousands protested at draconian cutbacks aimed at pulling the nation out of a debt crisis shaking the eurozone.

About 50 black-hooded youths hurled sticks and pieces of marble broken from the steps of the Bank of Greece at police, who responded with several rounds of tear gas.

The youths threw petrol bombs, smashed shop windows and set garbage containers on fire. Two police officers were wounded during the clashes and 16 protesters detained, a government official said. In otherwise largely peaceful protests, about 23,000 people marched through Athens to protest cuts in civil servants' income, tax hikes, a pension freeze and plans to raise the retirement age. Most Greeks believe that, despite the protests, the cash-strapped socialist government will press ahead with a plan agreed last week after months of wrangling with the EU and intense pressure from markets.

But the €4.8bn (£4.36bn) package of cutbacks is largely viewed as hitting the wrong people in a country with widespread corruption and tax evasion. The strike, organised by unions representing half of the country's five million-strong workforce, grounded flights, docked ships, shut schools and hospitals and halted public transport in the second nationwide walkout in a fortnight. Many archaeological sites and museums were closed to visitors and there was no news on television and radio as journalists went on strike, and bank employees, firemen, tax collectors and even some police officers were also among those marching.