Greece paralised in general strike amid renewed rioting

Thousands of people marched through a city landscape of burned and looted shops in the Greek capital Wednesday in a nationwide strike to protest against the government's economic policies, reported dpa.

In demonstrations coming after four nights of civil unrest, anti- government protesters shouting slogans and carrying black flags marched through the streets towards parliament, amid new scuffles between protestors and police.

Groups of youths hurled bottles and stones at riot police on guard in front of the building, who retaliated with tear gas.

The general strike, called by the country's two largest private and public sector unions, grounded all flights at Athens International Airport, shut down banks and schools and paralyzed bus, tram and metro service. Hospitals were operating on emergency staff.

The strike continued the tensions in the country after days and nights of violence triggered by police shooting dead a 15-year-old youth last Saturday in the bohemian Athens district of Exarchia.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis had asked opposition party leaders to unite in an effort to end the crisis and appealed to unions to cancel Wednesday's rally. But no one was willing to compromise.

Greece's private-sector GSEE and public-sector ADEDY unions are protesting the government's recent pension reforms, which raise the retirement age and cut back benefits.

The unions also oppose recent labour reforms, privatizations and tax-raising measures.

The two unions represent more than half of the country's workforce of 5 million.

Four successive nights of rioting and looting have left hundreds of cars, stores and buildings charred and gutted at least 10 cities across Greece and left many Athenians angry about the response of the government and police and their inability to stop the destruction.

Protests also were staged in London, Berlin, Paris and in Cyprus.

Reports said rioters have damaged or destroyed more than 250 stores and 70 banks in Athens, while 25 buildings were damaged by fires. Another 100 stores were damaged in Thessaloniki. Damage is estimated in the millions of euros.

In the center of Athens the majority of shops were shut for the day while in the popular areas of Plaka and Monastiraki they were devoid of tourists.

The government, which has seen its ratings fall sharply behind the main opposition Socialists, has promised to compensate businesses for the damage suffered.

The shooting of the teenager was seen as the last straw by many young Greeks whose economic future is bleak in a country with a high unemployment rate and low wages.

Unemployment is pegged at over 7 per cent, and nearly 20 per cent of Greeks live below the poverty line, earning less than 600 euros (775 dollars) a month.

"Everyone appears to have let our children down. Students have become more hostile towards us and to figures of authority," Christos Kittas said on resigning as the dean of Athens University after rioting spread to campuses.

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