A BUILDING worker was killed as Greek rioters went on the rampage with firebombs and stones yesterday, turning on peaceful demonstrators who blocked their access to Parliament as MPs gathered to vote on deeply unpopular new cuts demanded by international creditors.
As the second day of a general strike paralysed the country, more than 50,000 peaceful demonstrators flooded Athens’ central Syntagma Square, the scene of violent protests on Wednesday.
Communist party supporters set up a cordon in front of parliament to prevent hard-liners from starting new fights with police but peaceful protesters found themselves within the firing line when hundreds of anarchists in motorcycle helmets threw petrol bombs, stones, paint and clubs, trying to break the cordon.
Tear gas choked the air in Syntagma Square as riot police tried to separate the groups, and the scene degenerated into running battles between groups of protesters beating each other and between helmeted, heavily armed police and masked rioters.
One central Athens hospital said it had treated 74 people injured in the clashes. Some of the injured were covered in blood from head wounds.
Creditors have demanded Greece pass the extra austerity measures before they give the country more funds from a 110bn euro (£96bn) bailout loan from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. Greece says it will run out of money in mid-November without the next 8bn euro (£7bn) instalment.
MPs were voting on details of the proposals, which include putting 30,000 public servants on reduced pay and suspending collective labour contracts.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos issued an impassioned appeal to Socialist and opposition MPs alike, warning that failure to approve the measures would be disastrous.
“If the law is not approved ...there is no need for me even to go to the eurogroup meeting on Friday, or the prime minister to Sunday’s summit,” he said.
The latest austerity measures were expected to pass, although dissent from governing Socialist party MPs could further weaken Prime Minister George Papandreou’s slim majority in Parliament, where he holds 154 of the 300 seats.
Former Labour Minister Louka Katseli said she would not back a provision to scale back labour bargaining rights.
The next instalment of the bailout for Greece has yet to be authorised and there is growing unease in the markets about whether a summit of eurozone leaders this Sunday in Brussels will yield a comprehensive solution to the continent’s debt crisis.
Finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro will meet today ahead of the summit.
In the streets, the pain of austerity measures was already evident. Youths set mounds of rubbish on fire in the square. Young men in crash helmets and gas masks used crowbars and clubs to smash marble from building facades and rip up paving stones to throw at riot police, who were using tear gas.
The Evangelismos hospital said one 53-year-old man from the protest was brought in by ambulance without a pulse and not breathing. Doctors tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. A Communist-backed union identified him as a building worker.
Unions seemed resigned to the law being passed, but said the whole country opposed it.
“The general strike on Wednesday disrupted public services and transport, including ferries.