A general labor strike and demonstration in Athens, Greece on Tuesday erupted in violence as anti-government elements clashed with police forces in Syntagma Square.
Protesters were incited by austerity measures imposed by the government over the past several months.
The anti-government youth that joined in the demonstration in front of Parliament in the center of Athens threw rocks, pieces of marble torn from sidewalks and petrol bombs – "Molotov cocktails" – at police, sending peaceful demonstrators to the side streets for cover. Police responded with canisters of tear gas and flash-bang grenades that blanketed the Syntagma, Plaka, and Omonia districts in a thick, choking smoke in an attempt to contain the violent protesters.
Authorities have reported that two policemen and five civilians have been injured, including one journalist who was hit by a petrol bomb.
Jordan Reisman, a State University of New York at New Paltz study abroad student living in the Plaka district, was returning home from volunteer work at the Caritas Hellas Refugee Center when the violence broke out. He described the protest as "almost like a parade … people were covering their faces, and I heard explosions coming from Syntagma Square. At some point, [we] were exposed to tear gas … I sought shelter in my apartment while my flatmates braved the elements to collect photos and videos."
Jamie Burns, a student from the University of Wisconsin, described his exposure to tear gas as "a burning sensation in my nose and my throat – I couldn't stop sneezing … as I got closer to Syntagma, [the tear gas] slid underneath my sunglasses and I couldn't even open my eyes."
The three-hour spate of violence was eventually contained by Athens police. By 4:30 p.m. local time, the violence was replaced by approximately 500 protesters sitting outside Parliament vowing to remain where they sat until the government agreed to concessions.
The violence began after over 100,000 public transportation workers, sailors, media employees, bank employees, teachers, doctors, hospital employees and other municipal workers walked off the job this Wednesday across Greece and converged on government buildings everywhere – symbols of the source of the controversial austerity measures.
These austerity measures, required as terms of a $150 billion loan agreement between the Troika – the European Union, the European Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – and the Greek government, have led to high unemployment and lowered wages for many Greeks that work in the public sector. These angered workers have since taken to the streets over the past year to voice their disdain in organized protests which centered on the Parliament building in the main area of Syntagma. Some of these protests have escalated into violence as they did Tuesday.
The strikes, sponsored by the General Confederation of Greek Workers, the Civil Servants Federation and the Pan-Hellenic Laborers' Fighting Front, halted most public transportation across the country and resulted in over 100 cancelled flights at Athens International Airport. The strike also closed the Acropolis and other major tourist sites in Athens. All services were expected to resume on Feb. 24.
Tyler Ocon is a junior at Geneseo currently studying abroad in Athens, Greece. He consulted reporting by The Associated Press, Athens News, and MSNBC in making this report.