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Clashes Break Out In Athens Over Injured Protester

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A Petrol bomb explodes next to a riot policeman during a mass demonstration in central Athens as a general strike in the crisis-hit country halted services and disrupted flights, Wednesday. (AP)
A Petrol bomb explodes next to a riot policeman during a mass demonstration in central Athens as a general strike in the crisis-hit country halted services and disrupted flights, Wednesday. (AP)

Demonstrators furious at the severe injury of a protester during an anti-austerity march clashed with riot police in central Athens on Thursday, the second day of violence in the Greek capital.

Hooded youths used hammers to smash up marble and paving stones from building facades and pavements, hurling the jagged chunks and firebombs at police, who responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades. Running battles with police ensued through the streets of central Athens, with protesters setting trash bins on fire and one burning a Greek flag.

The clashes broke out during a demonstration by about 5,000 protesters from left-wing groups and unions amid condemnations of alleged police brutality over the wounding of a 31-year-old man in Wednesday's protest against the government's austerity measures. The man is listed in critical condition in an Athens hospital after undergoing brain surgery.

Greek authorities have often been accused of using heavy-handed tactics against protesters or immigrants. The fatal police shooting of a teenager in Athens in 2008 provoked two weeks of rioting that left hundreds of shops damaged.

The government has expressed sorrow at the protester's injuries and promised a full investigation.
Police spokesman Athanassios Kokalakis conceded that some officers "display an exaggerated response, and they will be identified and dealt with."

Wednesday's clashes between petrol bomb- and stone-throwing anarchists and riot police broke out during an otherwise peaceful march by some 20,000 people protesting the Socialist government's painful austerity measures. More than two dozen people were injured, including two police officers.

Greece has been grappling with a severe financial crisis for more than a year and was rescued from bankruptcy by a euro110 billion international bailout package last May. In return, the government imposed strict austerity measures, including cutting public sector salaries, freezing pensions and increasing taxes.

But it has struggled to meet revenue targets in the midst of a recession, and the government is soon due to unveil new cutbacks aimed at saving an estimated euro23 billion ($33 billion) through 2015.

Labor unions have joined many economic experts in questioning the effectiveness of more austerity at a time when the economy badly needs growth - or possibly a debt restructuring - to emerge from its debt hole.
Violent clashes have not been limited to protests over austerity, however.

In a separate demonstration earlier Thursday to protest the fatal mugging of a 44-year-old Greek man on Tuesday night, far-right extremists rampaged through downtown Athens, attacking dark-skinned foreigners and clashing with riot police.

Far-right and nationalist groups have blamed immigrants for the stabbing of the 44-year-old during a mugging as the man prepared to drive his pregnant wife to a hospital. He was apparently robbed for a video camera he was to use to film the birth of his child. Police have said no evidence has emerged that the crime was committed by immigrants.

Thugs in motorcycle helmets wielding bats beat up immigrants, both men and women, sending others fleeing for safety amid heavy rush-hour traffic. Similar attacks have occurred over the past two days since the mugging.

This program aired on May 12, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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