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Ahead of austerity cuts, Greek protests get violent

Athens descended into violence Wednesday when a few hundred protesters clashed with riot police ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote on new spending cuts.

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Protesters hold a banner with anti-austerity slogans during the first day of the 48-hour nationwide general strike, in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, Greece, on Tuesday, Nov. 6.

Giorgos Nisiotis/AP

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An anti-austerity demonstration by more than 80,000 people in Athens degenerated into violence Wednesday as hundreds of protesters clashed with riot police ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote on new spending cuts.

The vote is the toughest test yet for the country's fragile four month-old coalition government, which must pass the €13.5 billion ($17 billion) package of measures to ensure Greece continues receiving bailout loans and avoids bankruptcy.

"Today we must confirm Greece's new credibility," said Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. "We choose whether we want to stay in the eurozone ... or return to the drachma. That is the choice."

The measures will pile more pain on the Greeks, who have suffered wave after wave of spending cuts and tax hikes since their government revealed in 2009 that public debt was actually far higher than officially declared.

On Wednesday, hundreds of rioters hurled rocks and gasoline bombs at lines of police guarding Parliament, who responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades, and the first use of water cannon in Greece in years.

Some in the 80,000-strong demonstration, which braved sometimes torrential rain, ran for cover as running battles broke out with police on the second day of a 48-hour general strike. Clouds of tear gas rose from Syntagma Square.

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