Police have been firing teargas in an effort to disperse the crowd
Greek police have fired teargas at protesters outside parliament as MPs prepare to debate new austerity measures required for the EU and IMF bail-out package.
Demonstrators around Syntagma Square in Athens responded by throwing yoghurt and stones.
Thousands are taking part in a general strike, the third in Greece this year.
Ports, public transport and banks are badly disrupted as the main public- and private-sector unions go out on strike.
Prime Minister George Papandreou is seeking support for a new austerity programme of 28bn euros (£24.6bn; $40.5bn) in cuts to take effect from 2012 to 2015.
State-run companies have also joined the walkout, while hospitals are only offering emergency care. However, airports are operating normally after air traffic controllers called off their strike.
For all the leftist iconography plus the presence of that by now familiar demographic, the Facebook youth, or ‘graduates with no future’, this thing has gone beyond left and right – it’s clear that for many people it is the Hellenic republic versus the rest of the world”
Paul MasonEconomics editor, Newsnight
A top credit agency has cut Greece’s rating, making it the least credit-worthy nation out of 131 countries it monitors.
The Greek government said the downgrade by Standard & Poor’s – from B to CCC – ignored its efforts to secure funding.
In order for the next tranche of rescue loans to go through, parliament must adopt the new austerity plan by the end of June.
‘Fight the battle’
Police thwarted protesters who were attempting to blockade parliament and stop MPs getting in for the debate.
They sealed off the roads leading to Syntagma Square and created a pathway for deputies.
The Greek demonstrators are calling themselves the «indignants», linking themselves to Spanish anti-austerity protesters who set up camps in Madrid and Barcelona until they were removed by police last month.
The square is awash with Greek and Spanish flags, as well as banners reading «Resist» and the battle cry from the Spanish civil war, «No pasaran» (they shall not pass), the AFP news agency reports.
Greek bail-out timeline
- May 2010: EU and IMF agree bail-out package to prevent Greece defaulting on its debts; in return, Greece agrees to make 30bn euros of budget cuts over the next three years
- February 2011: EU and IMF experts tell Greece it must make further cuts to keep its recovery on track
- April 2011: EU figures reveal Greek deficit revised up to 10.5%, worse than previously thought
- May 2011: Greece begins privatisation programme but is warned the IMF may not release more funds because Athens cannot guarantee it will remain solvent for the next 12 months
- 29 June 2011: Deadline for Greece to agree new austerity package