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Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 17:18 UK

Three dead as Greece protest turns violent

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Malcom Brabant describes the scene as a group of protesters tried to storm the Greek parliament

At least three people have been killed in the Greek capital as protesters set fire to a bank during a general strike over planned austerity measures.

The bodies were found inside the Marfin Bank in Athens. The Greek prime minister said it was a "murderous act".

The protest became violent, with petrol bombs thrown at police, who responded with pepper spray and tear gas.

Protesters are angered by spending cuts and tax rises planned in return for a 110bn euro (£95bn) bail-out for Greece.

A police spokesman said the three victims - two women and a man - were among 20 people working in the Marfin bank branch on Stadiou Avenue in central Athens when the petrol bomb was thrown.

Most of the employees managed to escape the fumes as the flames took hold.

AT THE SCENE
Malcolm Brabant
By Malcolm Brabant, BBC News, Athens


I have not seen this level of anger for quite some time, but the cuts that have been announced are much more severe this time and people have realised how much these austerity measures are going to hit them in their pockets.

This demonstration however, looks better organised too, with clear "military" objectives.

But the deaths are going to make the protesters pause. And there is going to be a backlash against the anarchists who are going to be the main suspects in this.

It is very difficult to predict which way the situation is going. This is a very volatile country. But the protesters have managed to send a message to the international community that social unrest is a serious problem and that is going to undermine trust in the Greek government.

But three found their way blocked as they tried to escape to the roof and they suffocated.

"We took 15 minutes to get to the site because it was very difficult to get there," said fire brigade spokesman Panayiotis Falaras.

He said another five people had been rescued from the building's balcony.

Parliament is to vote on the measures by the end of the week. They include wage freezes, pension cuts and tax rises. They aim to achieve fresh budget cuts of 30bn euros over three years, with the goal of cutting Greece's public deficit to less than 3% of GDP by 2014. It currently stands at 13.6%.

As the demonstration gained momentum, a group of protesters rushed up a flight of steps at the parliament building in Syntagma Square, taunting MPs to come out and calling them "thieves".

Riot police forced them back, but right next to parliament, other groups set buildings on fire - including a department of the finance ministry in charge of the the austerity programme, as well as an office of the Athens prefecture.

Prime Minister George Papandreou told MPs in parliament: "Nobody has the right to violence and particularly violence that leads to murder. Violence breeds violence."

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But one of the protesters told the BBC it had been the fault of the police, whose "brutality" had led to the escalation.

GREEK AUSTERITY MEASURES
Public sector pay frozen till 2014
Public sector salary bonuses - equivalent to two months' extra pay - scrapped for higher earners and capped for others
Public sector allowances cut by 20%
State pensions frozen or cut; contribution period up from 37 to 40 years
Average retirement age up from 61 to 63; early retirement restricted
VAT increased from 19% to 23%
Taxes on fuel, alcohol and tobacco up 10%
One-off tax on profits, plus new gambling, property and green taxes

"It's something tragic, but I think that the responsibility in the last instance lies with the government because the government unleashed a tremendous amount of police violence against a huge demonstration," Panayotis Sotiris said.

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant in Athens says it is not clear whether shock over the deaths will have the effect of diminishing the protests.

But the fear is that the campaign to defeat the government will escalate, our correspondent adds.

The general strike is the third to hit Greece in as many months.

Flights in and out of Greece stopped at midnight, and trains and ferries were not running. Schools, hospitals and many offices are shut.

The government has appealed to demoralised staff in the military, police, schools and hospitals not to retire, fearing the surge in demand for benefits could further drain treasury resources.

Meanwhile, the German parliament has begun considering the bail-out plan for Greece.

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged MPs to back the emergency loan package agreed by European finance ministers at the weekend.

What went wrong in Greece?

An old drachma note and a euro note
Greece's economic reforms that led to it abandoning the drachma as its currency in favour of the euro in 2002 made it easier for the country to borrow money.
The opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics
Greece went on a debt-funded spending spree, including high-profile projects such as the 2004 Athens Olympics, which went well over budget.
A defunct restaurant for sale in central Athens
It was hit by the downturn, which meant it had to spend more on benefits and received less in taxes. There were also doubts about the accuracy of its economic statistics.
A man with a bag of coins walks past the headquarters of the Bank of Greece
Greece's economic problems meant lenders started charging higher interest rates to lend it money and widespread tax evasion also hit the government's coffers.
Workers in a rally led by the PAME union in Athens on 22 April 2010
There have been demonstrations against the government's austerity measures to deal with its 300bn euro (267bn) debt, such as cuts to public sector pay.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou at an EU summit in Brussels on 26 March 2010
Now the government is having to access a 110bn euro (95bn; $146.2bn) bail-out package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Greece's problems have made investors nervous, which has made it more expensive for other European countries such as Portugal to borrow money.
Greece's problems have made investors nervous, which has made it more expensive for other European countries such as Portugal to borrow money.
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It requires Germany to pay the largest proportion of the loans.

"Quite simply, Europe's future is at stake," she said.

The EU has agreed to provide 80bn euros (£69bn) in funding - of which around 22bn euros would come from Germany - while the rest will come from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

European Council President Herman van Rompuy said the European Union was watching events in Greece.

"We are all concerned by the Greek economic and budgetary situation, but at this moment our thoughts are with the human victims in Athens," Mr van Rompuy said.

"A major programme has just been finalised. This programme is ambitious and credible in efforts that it represents towards the budgetary plan and competitiveness."

The bail-out deal is designed to prevent Greece from defaulting on its massive debt.

However, it must first be approved by some parliaments in the 15 other eurozone countries.

Map detailing 5 May flashpoints



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