Widespread strikes that resulted in violent clashes virtually paralysed Greece on Friday. The demonstrations were staged as the country's Parliament adopted its third austerity plan further cutting back pensions and other benefits.

The city of Salonika had already been blocked by strikers on Thursday and the country's two principal trades unions called for a nation-wide general strike on March 11.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Georges Papandreau arrived in Berlin where he is expected to press German Chancellor Angela Merkel for a financial package to bail Greece out of its current difficulties.

Germany has been reluctant to commit to direct financial aid to Greece, and has exhorted Athens to increase austerity measures. Greece is under intense pressure from the EU and financial markets to cut its budget gap, which hit an estimated 12.7 per cent of gross domestic product last year, four times the EU limit. The Socialist government has pledged to cut that deficit to 8.7% of GDP this year, and respect the EU's 3% ceiling by 2012.

Senior German and French officials continued to promise only moral support. “We should stand helpfully by Greece and not encourage complications,” said Ms. Merkel on Friday at a business conference in Munich.

She said she and Mr. Papandreou would discuss “strengthened cooperation” between Germany and Greece. “It will be an interesting conversation, but a friendly one, too,” said Ms. Merkel. She s

Right direction:

German Economics Minister Rainer Bruederle told reporters on Friday that the Greek austerity plan was a step in the right direction. He also said the programme showed the government could handle its budget crisis on its own.

“Papandreou has said he does not want one cent from Germany, and we do not want to give one cent, either,” said Mr. Bruederle

More In: International | News