Several people have been arrested in Athens amid a two-day strike over austerity measures. Msnbc.com’s Dara Brown reports.
ATHENS — Black-masked protesters threw Molotov cocktails, stones and bottles and police fired teargas during clashes in central Athens Friday, as striking Greek workers denounced a new wave of austerity Friday as an imposition too far by Europe and the International Monetary Fund.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told the nation it faced a stark choice between sacrifices inside the euro area and bigger sacrifices outside it.
The clashes in central Athens came at the start of a 48-hour general strike against planned pay and job cuts.
The Guardian newspaper reported that “running battles” broke out between protesters and police, with clashes in Syntagma Square.
Some protesters compared Greece’s plight, facing bankruptcy unless it accedes to the demands of international lenders, to its seven years under military dictatorship.
People in the Syntagma sang songs from the struggle in the 1960s and 1970 against a junta of colonels boomed out over loudspeakers.
“Do not bow your heads! Resist!” they chanted. “No to layoffs! No to salary cuts! No to pension cuts!”
Police said some 7,000 people took part in the demonstration. Police said three policemen and two protesters were slightly injured in clashes. Five people were detained.
Another 10,000 Communist supporters held a separate, peaceful march.
Reuters said the street protests were relatively small and mostly peaceful, but there was widespread anger over the country’s plight.
Even the police, who have repeatedly clashed with protesters since the crisis broke out more than two years ago, announced resistance to the creditors’ demands.
Unless the Greek government can negotiate a deal, the troubled country could be the first in the European Union to default, sending its economy — and, possibly, others — into a death spiral. NBC’s Keith Miller reports.
The biggest police trade union said would issue arrest warrants for Greece’s international lenders for subverting democracy.
“As we can see you are continuing this destructive policy, so we warn you that you cannot make us fight against our brothers,” the Greek Police Federation said in an open letter to the “troika” of lenders: the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.
“We warn you that as legal representatives of the Greek police, we will issue arrest warrants for a series of legal violations … such as blackmail, covert abolition or erosion of democracy and national sovereignty.”
A daily newspaper depicted German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform with a swastika armband.
‘Hostages and serfs’
As public rage simmered, the leader of the far-right LAOS movement, the smallest of three parties backing Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, said he would not vote for the harsh austerity program in a crucial parliament vote due on Sunday or Monday.
“Greeks cannot be hostages and serfs,” LAOS leader George Karatzaferis told a news conference. “We were robbed of our dignity, we were humiliated. I can’t take this. I won’t allow it, no matter how hungry I am.
“Germany decides for Europe because it has a fat wallet and with that fat wallet it rules over the lives of all the southern countries,” he added.
His party has 15 deputies in the 300-seat parliament, dominated by the socialist PASOK and conservative New Democracy parties, which both support the Papademos government.
LAOS’ four ministers tendered their resignation, but Karatzaferis rejected calls for an early general election and suggested the prime minister appoint more technocrats instead.
Late Friday afternoon, The Associated Press reported that another Greek cabinet member, Deputy Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou of the majority Socialist party, had resigned.
Venizelos made clear Greece has little choice but to accept the harsh conditions attached to a $172 billion bailout, and a plan to halve its huge debt to private bondholders, to avoid a chaotic default when big bond repayments come due next month.
“It’s time for us to make up our minds,” he said after euro zone finance ministers refused to give immediate approval to the bailout plan. “Unfortunately, we have to choose between sacrifices and even bigger sacrifices.”
The European Union and IMF have been exasperated by a series of broken promises and weeks of disagreement over the terms of the bailout, which would be Greece’s second since 2010, with time running out to avoid a default.
The ministers gave Athens six days to prove its commitment by passing key legislation, finding an extra 325 million euros in savings, and providing assurances that the program will remain in force after any election.
Summing up their deep mistrust, Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of euro zone finance ministers, said: “In short, no disbursement before implementation.”
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.