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Three Dead Amid Greek Protests, Rioting

  • RFE/RL

A riot policeman falls after being hit with a Molotov cocktail in Athens.

A riot policeman falls after being hit with a Molotov cocktail in Athens.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou has condemned as "murder" the deaths of three people during protests in Athens against harsh new austerity measures.

Police say the three were inside a bank that was engulfed by fire after a gasoline bomb was thrown at the building.

"We are all deeply shocked by the unjust death of three of our citizens, citizens that were victims of a raw murderous act," Papandreou said in parliament. "That is what uncontrolled violence leads to, that is where political irresponsibility leads to."

The riots came as tens of thousands of people joined protests across the country against the austerity measures contained in the international financial rescue package announced for Greece.

Riot police and demonstrators fought running battles in the streets of Athens and also clashed outside parliament, where police fired tear gas and stun grenades to stop a section of the crowd breaking through the cordon in front of the building.

Several buildings were reported on fire in the center of the city. There were violent clashes in Greece's second-largest city of Thessaloniki as well.

Today's protests came amid a nationwide general strike by workers angry they are having to bear the pain of the austerity drive, even though the country's financial mess was caused by successive governments.

The 110 billion-euro ($141 billion) loan package -- from Greece's European partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- foresees tens of billions of dollars of tax increases, pension cuts, and wage freezes to be imposed by the Greek government at the behest of the lenders.

Today's strike was staged jointly by the public and private sectors. The country is paralyzed, with most public services and businesses closed down, and protester taking to the streets in Athens and other cities:

Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou has admitted the austerity measures will hurt. He says the program is a very "difficult" one that will hit a lot of people not responsible for the situation.

But he says the choice is simple: either accept the rescue plan or have Greece "lined up against the wall."

A Nervous Europe Looks On

Meanwhile, in Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel made a dramatic plea for her parliament to approve the rescue package, saying that the "future of Europe" is at stake, and in particular the fate of the single currency, the euro.

She said Europe's haphazard way of dealing with problems -- rarely facing up to them directly -- is no longer good enough for the future.

The bailout is unpopular among the German public, who are reluctant to pay for Greece's mistakes. Germany is the biggest contributor to the fund, paying almost one-third of Europe's total share. A vote takes place on May 7.

Continuing doubts about the sufficiency of the package for Greece's needs has led to nervousness on the global financial markets.

Speaking in Brussels today, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn sought to calm these nerves.

Rehn said the rescue package for Greece "has been calculated very carefully on the basis of the foreseen refinancing needs of Greece, and I'm confident that this figure of 80 billion from the euro-area member states and 30 billion from the IMF -- all together 110 billion euros -- will suffice for the refinancing needs of Greece over the next years."

Markets worldwide suffered heavy losses on May 4, as fresh fears spread overnight from Europe and Wall Street to Asia today. The euro hit a one-year low against the dollar (below $1.29) today, but European markets strengthened slightly.

Investors fear that the massive Greek bailout will not be enough to stop the debt crisis from hitting Spain and Portugal, two other economically vulnerable members of the eurozone.

with agency reports