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Greece paralyzed on 2nd day of strikes ahead of austerity vote; violent protests break out
ATHENS, Greece (AP) ' Violent protesters attacked peaceful ones with petrol bombs and stones in Athens on Thursday, as tens of thousands rallied outside parliament ahead of a vote on despised new austerity measures demanded by creditors to keep the debt-ridden country afloat.
As the second day of a general strike paralyzed the country, more than 50,000 peaceful demonstrators flooded downtown Syntagma Square, the scene of violent protests on Wednesday, the first day of the nationwide strike.
Wary of having more protests hijacked by violent hooded youths, communist party supporters on Thursday set up a cordon in front of parliament to prevent hard-liners from starting new fights with police. But that just meant the peaceful protesters came under attack later in the day, hundreds of anarchists in motorcycle helmets threw petrol bombs, stones, paint and clubs at them, trying to break the cordon.
Riot police used tear gas and stun grenades to break up the clashes. At least ten people were treated by medics, mostly for facial injuries.
The austerity bill won initial approval from the Greek parliament in a first vote Wednesday night, and deputies are now voting on the details, which include suspending 30,000 public servants on reduced pay and suspending collective labor contracts.
Creditors have demanded the measures before they give Greece more funds from a euro110 billion ($152 billion) package of bailout loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. Greece says it will run out of money in mid-November without the next euro8 billion ($11 billion) installment.
The next installment has yet to be authorized and there's 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, which has seen Ireland and Portugal bailed out as well as Greece. Finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro will meet ahead of the summit on Friday.
The Greek government's latest round of austerity measures are expected to pass though deputies from the governing Socialist party have expressed outrage, with several indicating they could vote against some of them.
Dissent could further weaken Prime Minister George Papandreou's slim majority in Parliament, where he holds 154 of the legislature's 300 seats.
Greece's international creditors, meanwhile, warned that a second rescue package tentatively agreed in July may not be enough to save the country from bankruptcy, but said Athens should still get its next batch of bailout loans, according to a draft of a debt inspectors' report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
Although the inspectors said Greece has missed its deficit-cutting targets and that the pace of its reforms is insufficient, they said Athens should get euro8 billion ($11 billion) of bailout loans as soon as possible so the country does not default on its debts next month.
Greece has been relying on a euro110 billion ($152 billion) package of rescue loans since May last year. In July, eurozone leaders tentatively agreed in a second euro109 billion ($150 billion) bailout, that would also seen banks and other private bondholders give Greece easier terms on its debt.
However, the inspectors from the European Commission and the European Central Bank said Greece's debt dynamics remain "extremely worrying."
The conclusions pile pressure on European leaders at a key summit this Sunday to make private creditors like banks take more losses on the Greek bonds they hold.
The report adds that Greece's overall "debt sustainability has effectively deteriorated, given delays in the recovery, in fiscal consolidation and in the privatization plan, as well as the perspective of bank recapitalizations."
In Athens, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos issued an impassioned appeal to Socialist and opposition lawmakers alike Thursday, warning that failure to approve the measures would be disastrous.
"If the law is not approved, including every single article it contains ' particularly those that (Greece's creditors) and eurozone members regard a symbolic and political necessity ' 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 country will be exposed to the danger of a non-rational development, and will once again serve as the scapegoat on which Europe's historic, political and institutional shortcomings will be dumped," Venizelos said.
Unions seemed resigned to the law being passed, but warned that the whole country virulently opposed it.
"It looks as if (lawmakers) may be set to vote in favor of the new austerity law," said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the Adedy civil servants' union. "But they have no popular consent. Our European friends must know that our prime minister will go to the European summit naked, because the promises he will make have no backing in his country and cannot be enforced."
Thursday's protests come a day after a massive demonstration that degenerated into violence, with several hundred black-clad demonstrators pelting riot police with chunks of marble, paint and gasoline bombs. Police responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades that reverberated across the Greek capital's main square.
The clashes continued sporadically into the night in the back streets near Syntagma, where protesters set fire to piles of festering garbage after a weeks-long strike by municipal workers. Authorities said 50 police and at least three protesters were injured.
The second day of the general strike Thursday disrupted public transport and left ships docked at port, schools and customs offices closed and state hospitals running on emergency staff. All public services were shut, while even lawyers and prison guards were among those staying away from work.
Elena Becatoros and Derek Gatopoulos contributed to this report