Greek Protests Turn Violent

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Athens Wednesday on the first day of a national general strike that brought Greece to a standstill. The unions are protesting the government's austerity policies and the restrictions being forced on Greece by the IMF, the E.U. and the European Central Bank.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks marched in Athens today and there were some clashes between police and protesters wearing masks. It was the first day of a 48-hour general strike and it brought the entire country to a standstill. Protesters objected to yet more austerity measures demanded by Greece's international creditors.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has the story from Athens.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: The atmosphere was calm as strikers marched, but they couldn't hide their anger after two years of wage cuts and tax hikes. Schoolteacher Elena Parasidou has seen her salary drop from $1,800 to about $1,000 a month. She feels betrayed by the ruling Socialists.

ELENA PARASIDOU: I feel that they - they aren't Greeks. They don't love our country.

POGGIOLI: Dimitra Petsoti is convinced the government has become the tool of global finance.

DIMITRA PETSOTI: Banks, markets, all these impersonal things that we don't even know what they are, who they are. The system? What's the system?

POGGIOLI: Turnout was the biggest in years and the crowds cheered when they saw the banner of pensioners from the armed forces. It was the first time this conservative group had marched in a rally. Retired navy officer Panos Asprodidis believes European leaders use Greece as an example for other indebted nations.

PANOS ASPRODIDIS: They treat Greece like this in order to say to the other European people that, look, Greece, what punishment we force to them. You will have the same.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

POGGIOLI: By early afternoon, what had been a noisy but peaceful gathering turned ugly. Groups of hooded, masked protesters faced off with riot police.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

POGGIOLI: More protests are expected tomorrow as parliament votes on yet more painful wage, job and pension cuts and steeper taxes.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Athens.

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