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April 30, 2010

Greek Protesters Decry Cutbacks as Aid Deal Nears

Greek police have clashed with protesters rallying against the government's plans to make deep budget cuts to ease a crippling debt crisis.

Protesters struck police with sticks and threw fire bombs in the Greek capital Saturday as thousands gathered for May Day celebrations.  Police responded by firing tear gas to break up the crowds.

Greece's public sector union has been leading opposition to austerity measures the government is planning in order to secure an international economic rescue package.

Officials in Europe are close to completing the deal with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.  The package is said to be worth $160 billion, with details to be announced Sunday.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is warning his fellow citizens economic austerity measures are in their future.  He told parliament Friday that such measures are necessary to ensure Greece's survival.

Union officials have expressed concern that the measures will include tax increases and a wage freeze for government workers.  They have called for a general strike on May 5.

Finance ministers from countries using the euro currency will meet in Brussels Sunday to discuss the crisis.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Saturday to enact a rescue plan quickly, once the deal is reached.

Politicians and investors are worried that economic problems could spread if Greece fails to pay back its debt.  Those concerns grew earlier this week, when a key credit rating agency, Standard and Poor's, downgraded its credit ratings of Greece, Portugal and Spain.

The head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, says he is confident an emergency aid package for Greece will keep the crisis from further threatening the financial health of other EU nations.

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