Violence Erupts as Greeks Strike to Protest Austerity

ATHENS — Widespread protests erupted across Greece on Wednesday as trade unions called a nationwide strike to contest billions of euros in new salary and pension cuts being discussed by the government and its international creditors.

The walkout is the first since a conservative coalition led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras came to power in June.

Mr. Samaras is negotiating a $15 billion austerity package that is needed to persuade Greece’s so-called troika of lenders — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission — to release nearly $40.7 billion in financial aid that the country needs to stay solvent.

In Athens, demonstrations were peaceful throughout the morning, as civil servants, teachers, medical personnel, bank employees and lawyers made their way to the city center. A police spokeswoman put the turnout at 35,000 to 40,000 people — modest by Greek standards.

But violence broke out shortly after 1 p.m. as a group of people wearing black face masks hurled Molotov cocktails at police officers on Vasilissis Sofias, a wide avenue abutting the Parliament building, sending bursts of flame and black smoke into the air. Firebombs were also thrown at the Finance Ministry building and into the lush National Gardens next to the Parliament building. Crowds scattered inside Syntagma Square when similarly clad youths destroyed a tent and set part of it on fire.

Officers wielding batons responded with bursts of tear gas, causing demonstrators and tourists to flee the acrid clouds as police helicopters circled overhead and flares exploded. Many cursed the police with cries of “traitors!” and “Merkel’s pigs!” — a reference to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, which is widely blamed for an austerity drive.

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