Greece faces a critical austerity vote aimed at averting a debt default
Greece faced a critical austerity vote Thursday aimed at averting a debt default as protestors staged a new show of strength after violence injured dozens on the opening day of a 48-hour general strike
The streets around parliament resembled a battle zone on Wednesday after clashes between masked protesters and riot police left at least 45 people injured and saw widespread vandalism on stores, banks and hotels in central Athens.
The assailants threw firebombs, street railings, paint and a hail of stones hacked off buildings at police who responded with heavy discharges of tear gas that blanketed the heart of the city.
The protesters also set fire to garbage littering the capital for over two weeks owing to a strike by municipal refuse collectors.
Police arrested five people over the violence which broke out on the sidelines of a giant turnout of 70,000 people according to the authorities, the largest seen since the start of Greece's debt crisis. Unions put the participation at 200,000.
Overall, at least 125,000 people are estimated by police to have demonstrated in major cities around the country against the government's economic policies.
A leading government official on Thursday urged EU policymakers to come to a "conclusive" solution at an upcoming summit this weekend on the sovereign debt crisis whose epicentre is Greece.
"I call on the Europeans to see what happened yesterday because this cannot go on. Public anger will expand everywhere. They must stop fooling around ... conclusive solutions are needed," the ruling party's chief whip Christos Protopappas told Flash Radio.
"The crisis has already hit Portugal and Italy, it will spread to France and Belgium next," Protopappas added.
Another demonstration has been called by unions for 0800 GMT on central Syntagma Square alongside plans to encircle parliament where a last-ditch austerity bill demanded by Greece's creditors heads to a vote later Thursday.
The strike will once again cripple the public sector, trains and ferries with taxi owners, municipal workers, lawyers, tax collectors, customs inspectors, state-employed journalists and engineers and many doctors also joining the action.
But most flights will operate normally.
Parliament late on Wednesday adopted in first reading the new bill which introduces collective wage amendments, major tax break cuts, a new civil service salary system and temporary layoffs for thousands of public sector staff.
During the largely procedural vote in the 300-member parliament, 154 lawmakers from the ruling socialist Pasok party voted in favour; 141 opposition lawmakers voted against, and five deputies were absent.
But a number of government deputies have threatened to reject an article on wage amendments in Thursday's follow-up vote.
The government has repeatedly warned that failure to pass the legislation ahead of an EU crisis summit on Sunday would prompt Greece's peers to block the release of loans and cause a payments freeze.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told parliament on Wednesday that Greece faced a "battle of battles" in Brussels and would be unable to finalise its budget without Thursday's new measures.