Austerity enraged protesters broke into a government building and threatened the labor minister, Wednesday. Riot police then intervened with tear gas, batons and pepper spray, with one person taken to hospital.
The protest, by a few hundred people, was organized by a Communist backed labor union, and took place in front of the Labor Ministry building. The protesters were voicing their anger by the severe austerity measures that have gripped Greece since the financial crisis took hold in the country in late 2009.
At least one person was hospitalized and two others collapsed from the effects of pepper spray and were treated at the scene by other protesters. The government said damage was caused inside the office of minister Yianni Vroutsi and threats had been made against the minster himself.
Over 30 protesters were detained and scuffles broke out when the crowd outside attempted to stop the bus taking them to police headquarters from leaving. Some of the protesters followed on foot and continued their demonstration outside the police station.
“Violence in all its forms must be condemned, not only in words but also by actions. The raid on the office of the labour minister, the material destruction and the threats against Yianni Vroutsi are practices which aim to dynamite the political climate at a very critical time for the country," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told reporters.
Union members involved were protesting planned reforms to the pension system – part of the latest spending cuts in the Greek bailout program.
Other spending cuts that took affect this year include a 25% cut in the incomes of most civil servants.
Public transport workers and hospital doctors are to hold a 24 hour strike in Athens on Thursday, while dockers and port workers will also stage a 48 hour walkout, which will leave the many Greek islands without crucial ferry services.
Since the financial crisis took hold in 2009, Greece has been kept going by billions of euros in rescue loans from other euro zone countries, particularly Germany, as well as from the International Monetary Fund.
In return for these handouts the Greek government has had to impose a raft of stringent austerity measures, including spending and salary cuts and tax hikes. Unemployment in Greece has spiraled to more than 26%.
The government response to recent protests in Greece has been heavy handed and is part of a deliberate zero tolerance campaign by the authorities in Athens, lawyer and professor of constitutional law, George Katrougalas, told RT.
“The government has decided to follow a policy of zero tolerance against, as it says, the resistance to the austerity measures. So we have seen the government take emergency measures that are not constitutional, against the recent strikes. Now we have seen the police act very violently against a generally peaceful and calm demonstration,” he said.