Posted: 23 Feb 2011 07:04 AM PST
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek police clashed with protesters on Wednesday as thousands of workers marched to parliament to protest against austerity policies aimed at helping the country cope with a huge debt crisis.
Riot police fired several rounds of teargas and flash bombs at protesters hurling petrol bombs in front of parliament as crowds of striking protesters ran for cover.
Public and private sector employees' 24-hour strike grounded flights, shut down schools and paralysed public transport in this year's first nationwide walkout against cost cuts.
About 35,000 Greeks marched through the streets of Athens chanting "We are not paying" and "No sacrifice for plutocracy". In four places across the city, police fired teargas to disperse demonstrators hurling stones and plastic bottles at them.
Police said one journalist was slightly injured by a petrol bomb. Protesters broke marble sidewalks for rocks to throw at police, set garbage cans on fire and damaged bus stops.
Others unfolded a black banner reading "We are dying" in front of parliament.
"We've reached our limits! We can't make ends meet," said 60-year old Yannis Tsourounakis, who has three children and is unemployed. "Our future is a nightmare if we don't overturn these policies."
The Socialist government cut salaries and pensions and raised taxes last year despite repeated strikes, in return for a 110 billion euro ($150 billion) bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that saved Greece from bankruptcy.
Greece's international lenders approved this month a fresh, 15-billion-euro tranche of the aid, but set a tougher target for privatisation proceeds and called for more structural reforms.
"This strike kicks off a wave of protests this year with the participation of workers, pensioners and the unemployed. We are against these policies which are certainly leading to poverty and pushing the economy into a deep recession," Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of public sector union ADEDY, told Reuters.
Markets are watching for any derailment Greece's fiscal efforts. Analysts say strikes are unlikely to make the government, which has a comfortable majority in parliament, change course but turnout in protests is a way to gauge its popularity.
"The government has no room to change policies," said Costas Panagopoulos, head of ALCO pollsters. "But most Greeks believe the burden is not equally shared and this is a problem."
Private sector union GSEE and its public sector sister ADEDY, which represent about 2.5 million workers or half the country's workforce, have vowed to resist austerity measures, saying they are killing the economy.
"We can't take it any more. I have been looking for work for many months while others are eating with golden spoons," said Thanos Lykourias, 27.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 23 Feb 2011 07:04 AM PST
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose security forces crushed protests against his 2009 re-election, on Wednesday condemned state brutality against demonstrators in Libya.
Speaking for the first time about this year's Arab uprisings, Ahmadinejad expressed horror at the use of extreme violence and urged governments to listen to their people.
"How can a leader subject his own people to a shower of machine-guns, tanks and bombs? How can a leader bomb his own people, and afterwards say 'I will kill anyone who says anything?'" he said in televised comments.
The Iranian president was speaking a day after Libyan protesters said they were attacked by tanks and warplanes. Leader Muammar Gaddafi said protesters deserved the death sentence, and vowed to die a martyr rather than step down.
"I seriously want -- from all heads of states -- to pay attention to their people and cooperate, to sit down and talk, and listen to their words. Why do they act so badly that their people need to apply pressure for reforms?" Ahmadinejad said.
Tehran has welcomed Arab uprisings like those in Tunisia and Egypt as an "Islamic awakening" against despotic rulers.
U.S. President Barack Obama called this ironic as Tehran had "acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully."
Opposition supporters inside Iran say their own rallies -- where two people have died this month -- have once again been crushed by security forces.
Before staging a rally on Feb. 14, Iran's opposition Green movement had not held any protests since December 2009 when eight people were killed in clashes with security forces, ending months of huge demonstrations against the June 2009 election that gave Ahmadinejad a second term.
Tehran denied opposition accusations that the vote was rigged and accused the Green movement of trying to overthrow the Islamic system with the backing of Iran's foreign enemies.
It has blamed this month's deaths on "terrorist" elements among protesters, and members of parliament have called for the arrest and execution of the reformist leaders who called for the protests to show their support for events in North Africa.
Both sides of Iran's political divide have tried to make capital from the uprisings, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailing revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt as a continuation of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, which overthrew a U.S.-backed monarch and established Shi'ite Muslim clerical rule.
In Egypt, the most populous country in the predominantly Sunni Muslim Arab region which has historically viewed Persian Shi'ite Iran as an adversary, the Muslim Brotherhood said it did not deem the uprising to be an Islamic revolution.
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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