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Greek Police Clash with Bomb-Throwing Protesters

Protesters try to avoid a tear gas canister during clashes in central Athens, February 23, 2011

Protesters try to avoid a tear gas canister during clashes in central Athens, February 23, 2011

Greek riot police engaged in violent clashes with protesters Wednesday, as thousands of people demonstrated against austerity measures aimed at helping the country cope with its large debt crisis.

More than 60,000 striking workers marched to the Greek parliament in Athens, where police fired tear gas and smoke bombs at protesters throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails. Smoke blanketed Syntagma Square in the central part of the city.

At least five people were injured, including a police officer set on fire by a gasoline bomb. Several people were arrested.

Protests against the austerity measures also took place in Greek cities such as Thessaloniki.

The 24-hour strike, part of Greece's first major labor protest this year, led to the cancellation of many flights and paralyzed public transportation systems.

Two major Greek unions representing public- and private-sector employees are striking in response to cost-cutting measures imposed by Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Papandreou imposed the cuts last year in exchange for a $150 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European countries. The IMF has been pressuring Greece to speed up reforms to avoid missing its economic goals.

Greece also has been urged to launch a five-year privatization program to pay down some of its debts.

The strike, called by Greece's largest umbrella trade union and the biggest public sector union, is impacting air travel, public transit, hospitals and schools. Greece's journalists' union and many small shop owners also are honoring the strike.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.