Greece erupts into violence with three killed in bank blaze

Three people were killed in Athens today when protesters fire-bombed a bank during violent clashes with police over government spending cuts.

Two women and one man, all bank workers, died in the blaze after a petrol bomb was hurled through a window by hooded demonstrators in the centre of the Greek capital.

Employees covered in ash fled the burning building, which was destroyed. The three victims were reportedly trapped on the third floor as the fire spread through the bank.

Greek prime minister George Papandreou said it was a “murderous act”, telling parliament that “a demonstration is one thing and murder is quite another”.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Athens today as part of a general strike in protest at planned austerity measures aimed at saving Greece from bankruptcy.

Protesters threw petrol bombs at two banks and hundreds of people attempting to storm the Greek parliament building were involved in violent clashes with riot police, who responded with pepper spray, tear gas and stun grenades.

Police have deployed at least 1,700 officers in the capital.

Violence was also reported in Thessaloniki, where a further 20,000 people joined the city’s demonstrations.

Flights to and from the country were grounded, trains and ferries suspended and public services were paralysed as transport workers walked out.

Public sector workers began their own 48-hour strike yesterday, forcing the closure of schools and customs offices. Hospitals are using emergency staff. The Acropolis and all other ancient sites were closed today and there were no television or radio news broadcasts.

The workers are protesting against cuts in spending that the government says is needed to pull the country out of debt. The country’s parliament is expected to vote on the measures, which include wage freezes and higher taxes, by the end of tomorrow.

Union leaders say the cuts — slashing public spending and cutting the pay of civil servants —target poorer Greeks. Spyros Papaspyros, leader of the public servants’ union Adedy, said: “There are other things the government can do before taking money from a pensioner who earns €500 a month.”

“We’ll be on the streets every day, every day! You never win unless you fight,” said 76-year-old Constantinos Doganis, who gets €345 a month from his farming pension fund.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel urged parliament to quickly pass its share of €110 billion in loans aimed at keeping Greece from defaulting and preventing the debt crisis engulfing other countries with weak finances such as Spain and Portugal.

The cutbacks, announced by Mr Papandreou on Sunday, are the price of winning help from the International Monetary Fund and the other 15 countries in the eurozone

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