At a rally of more than 20,000 in the Syntagma Square, police responded with tear gas to push the protesters away from barricades erected to protect the Parliament building and the lawmakers arriving to debate the new austerity plan.
Other demonstrators who had been part of the previously peaceful gathering also clashed with the violent groups of hooded youths, trying to eject them from their rally.
The protests were part of a 24-hour general strike against the new cutbacks, which the country must pass in order to continue receiving funding from a euro110 billion international bailout that is preventing it from defaulting on its debts.
A large part of central Athens was closed to all traffic and pedestrians as police mounted a huge security operation to allow lawmakers access to Parliament by car. Some 5,000 officers, including hundreds of riot and motorcycle police, used parked buses and crowd barriers to prevent protesters from encircling the building.
“Resign, resign,” the crowd chanted outside Parliament. The protesters included both young and old, and many brought their children, hoisting them onto their shoulders to shield them from the crush.
Two separate marches organized by trade unions joined the rally in Syntagma. Such demonstrations have often turned violent in the past – three clerks died when rioters torched their bank in Athens last May.