Greek spending cuts, taxes spur violence
The Greek parliament approved new spending cuts and taxes Friday aimed at defusing the country's debt crisis, while protesters opposed to the measures fought with police outside. Prime Minister George Papandreou went abroad to seek other European leaders' support for his efforts.
ATHENS, Greece — The Greek parliament approved new spending cuts and taxes Friday aimed at defusing the country's debt crisis, while protesters opposed to the measures fought with police outside. Prime Minister George Papandreou went abroad to seek other European leaders' support for his efforts.
Riot police used tear gas and baton charges to disperse rioters who chased the ceremonial guards, in 19th-century kilts and tasseled garters, away from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the parliament, while a top trade-union leader was roughed up by left-wing protesters. Strikes hit schools, hospitals and public transportation.
It was the biggest outburst of violence since Greece's debt crisis escalated late last year. Police say they arrested five people, and seven officers were injured.
Greece's financial troubles have shaken the European Union and its shared euro currency, whose rules were supposed to stop governments from running up too much debt.
Up to 7,000 demonstrators gathered outside as lawmakers debated the austerity package, which aims to save $6.5 billion with measures including higher consumer taxes and cuts to government workers' pay of up to 8 percent.
Papandreou met in Luxembourg with Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the group of eurozone finance ministers. Later Friday, he met in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but after the meeting, Germany made no public offers of financial support.
Merkel did praise Greece's latest austerity measures as an "inordinately important step," and Papandreou defended the package as critical to stabilizing his country's finances.
Not eager to help
The two countries have been locked in an increasingly bitter war of words over Greece's debt problems and the expectation that taxpayers in Germany, Europe's largest economy, would bail Greece out.
Germany has plenty at stake. With $43.6 billion in loans, German banks have the third-highest exposure to Greece. Deutsche Bank's chief executive, Josef Ackermann, flew to Athens last week to meet with Papandreou and other officials, prompting rumors that a deal with the Germans was imminent.
A bailout of Greece would be far less expensive than a potential chain reaction of debt crises leading to larger countries with budget woes, such as Spain and Italy.
Before Papandreou arrived in Berlin, the German economy minister, Rainer Bruederle, had a blunt message: "The German government does not intend to give one cent."
In a newspaper interview published Friday, Papandreou said, "We have not asked the German taxpayers to rescue us ... What we need is the support of the E.U. and our European partners so that we can receive credit from the market at better terms."
German news outlets have accused the Greeks of corruption, tax evasion and falsifying budget numbers to join the euro zone. Greek politicians, in turn, have asked for reparations for damages inflicted by Nazi occupiers during World War II.
Violence in streets
Back in Athens, demonstrators attacked the two military guards and their escorting officers, smashing windows and kicking the guard posts. Earlier, left-wing protesters attacked the head of Greece's largest trade union, who was addressing the crowd.
Further violence erupted later, with masked young people attacking riot police inside the Council of State, Greece's highest administrative court, and trying to break into the Labor Ministry. Rioters also smashed the glass fronts of two banks, two hotels, a cellphone shop and a fast-food restaurant.
Smaller clashes came in Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city.
The newly approved measures, meanwhile, hit a snag as striking Interior Ministry employees occupied the government printing press. Under Greek law, all new legislation must be published in the Government Gazette — issued by the printing office — before it takes effect. It was unclear how long the protesters intended to stay in the building.
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