Protests against the government's austerity measures turned violent in Greece on Wednesday when police clashed with demonstrators in Athens and other parts of the country.

In the Athens' Parliament Square, police used tear gas canisters and arrested several young people, many of them hooded, who lobbed Molotov cocktails at them. Flames engulfed several parts of downtown Athens and teargas forced coughing demonstrators to cover their mouths and noses as they dispersed.

Greece is observing a 48-hour-general strike to protest against a fresh wave of austerity measures now being debated in Parliament. Life has been almost totally paralysed across the country with schools and colleges, public services, companies, shops and offices, transport services, hospitals, banks and government offices all observing the strike. The extent of the discontent can be judged by the size of the protests with over 125,000 persons demonstrating across the country.

In Athens alone, over 70,000 persons converged on Syntagma (Constitution) Square facing Parliament where lawmakers have been discussing yet another belt tightening austerity plan that is expected to cut pensions and public sector salaries. Other major cities such as Thessaloniki, Patras and Heraklion also saw massive demonstrations. This is the country's fifth general strike this year and the second 48-hour work stoppage since June. A strike that entered its tenth day has crippled garbage collection in the capital.

Parliamentarians are scrambling to do the bidding of the “troika” composed of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank who are monitoring the Greek response to its public debt management, and who have made these further cuts conditional to the next tranche of money that might slightly ease the noose around the Greeks. Greece desperately needs the next tranche to avoid a default.

The draft law under discussion also envisages a further increase in taxes, axing several thousand public sector jobs and the freezing of wage agreements in the private sector which would reduce the salaries in private businesses.

European leaders are to meet next Sunday and informed sources say President Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany have reached an agreement an a fivefold increase in the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). The bailout fund for the euro-zone will have firepower of up to Euro1.45 trillion, though there is no final agreement on the amount yet, said journalists. European officials are still negotiating on the exact shape of the European Financial Stability Facility.

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