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1 dead in violent Greek protests over cutbacks

    Communist-backed union protesters run way from a fire bomb hurled at them by other demonstrators in Athens on Thursday Oct. 20, 2011. Clashes have broken out in central Athens between rival groups of demonstrators, amid a second day of mass demonstrations against a new round of austerity measures being debated in parliament. Police fired tear gas and stun grenades outside parliament as several hundred masked youths attacked peaceful demonstrators from a Communist-backed trade union who had tried to isolate the from the rally.(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece >> Greek protesters rampaged outside parliament with firebombs and stones Thursday, leaving one construction worker dead as lawmakers inside gathered to vote on deeply unpopular new cutbacks demanded by international creditors.

Tear gas choked the air in Athens’ central Syntagma Square as riot police tried to separate more than 50,000 peaceful protesters from smaller groups determined to wreck havoc. The scene degenerated into running battles between groups of protesters beating each other and between helmeted, heavily armed police and masked rioters.

One central Athens hospital said it had treated 74 people injured in the clashes. Some of the injured were covered in blood from head wounds.

Creditors have demanded that Greece pass the extra austerity measures before they give the country more funds from a €110 billion ($152 billion) bailout loan from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. Greece says it will run out of money in mid-November without the next €8 billion ($11 billion) installment.

Greek lawmakers on Thursday were voting on details of the proposals, which include putting 30,000 public servants on reduced pay and suspending collective labor contracts.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos issued an impassioned appeal to Socialist and opposition lawmakers alike, warning that failure to approve the measures would be disastrous.

"If the law is not approved …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 Thursday. "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."

In layman’s terms, if the bill is not passed, the European effort to reduce Greece’s massive debt burden in an orderly fashion will be overtaken by the chaotic market uncertainties of a possible Greek default.

The latest austerity measures are expected to pass, although dissent from governing Socialist party deputies could further weaken Prime Minister George Papandreou’s slim majority in Parliament, where he holds 154 of the 300 seats.

Former Labor Minister Louka Katseli said Thursday she would not back a provision to scale-back labor bargaining rights.

The next installment of the bailout for Greece 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. Finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro will meet Friday ahead of the summit.

In the streets, the pain of austerity measures was already evident. Youths set mounds of trash on fire in the square Thursday, while clouds of acrid tear gas sent protesters scurrying. Young men in crash helmets and gas masks used crowbars and clubs to smash marble from building facades and rip up paving stones to throw at riot police.

The Evangelismos hospital said one 53-year-old man from the protest was brought in by ambulance without a pulse and not breathing. Doctors tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. A Communist-backed union identified him as a construction worker.

The violence came a day after a massive Athens demonstration by more than 100,000 people also degenerated into a riot, with masked, black-clad protesters attacking riot police, who responded with volleys of stun grenades and tear gas.

Greece’s international creditors, meanwhile, warned that a second rescue package tentatively agreed upon in July may not be enough to save the country from bankruptcy, according to debt inspectors’ draft report obtained Thursday by The Associated Press in Berlin.

The inspectors said Greece has missed its deficit-cutting targets and called the pace of its reforms insufficient, but still said Athens should get €8 billion ($11 billion) in bailout loans as soon as possible so it does not default next month.

Greece has depended on the rescue loans since May of 2010 to pay its bills. In July, eurozone leaders tentatively agreed on a second €109 billion ($150 billion) bailout that would also see 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."

That piles more pressure on European leaders to make private creditors like banks take more losses on the Greek bonds they hold.

Unions seemed resigned to the law being passed, but warned that the whole country opposed it.

"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," said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the Adedy civil servants’ union.

The general strike Thursday disrupted public transport, public services and left ships docked at ports. Schools and customs offices closed and state hospitals were running on emergency staff.


Associated Press writers Elena Becatoros, Derek Gatopoulos and Demetris Nellas in Athens contributed to this report


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