Greek government faces anti-austerity protests

ATHENS, Nov 17, 2011 (AFP) - Greece's fledgling government faces its first street challenge on Thursday as thousands of protesters hold an anti-austerity demonstration that has prompted a major security operation across Athens.

Some 7,000 police -- including 700 riot officers equipped with tear gas, batons and shields -- will be deployed in the capital with the focus on state buildings and embassies that are regularly targeted by vandals during protests.

The demonstration marks the anniversary of a 1973 student uprising which helped topple a US-backed army dictatorship that had ruled the country since 1967.

AFP - Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos speaks at the parliament in Athens on November 16, 2011.

Originally directed against American 'imperialism', the annual protest which draws tens of thousands of participants has morphed into an outcry against two years of economic sacrifice imposed by Greece's international creditors.

Tempers flared on Wednesday after leftist students prevented youth members of the socialist party -- which is in a power-sharing government enacting additional cutbacks -- from laying a wreath at the Athens Polytechnic, the heart of the 1973 uprising.

Last year, police fired tear gas and arrested over 20 people after clashes broke out on the sidelines of the demonstration attended by about 20,000 people, according to the authorities.

The new government of Lucas Papademos, a former European Central Bank deputy chief, was officially confirmed in parliament late on Wednesday, nearly a week after it was created in a coalition deal between the socialist, conservative and far-right nationalist parties to save Greece from a looming bankruptcy.

More than four-fifths of the 300-seat chamber on Wednesday gave a vote of confidence to the interim administration, which was set up to approve a crucial eurozone debt bailout and then hold early elections.

But the country's third largest party, the Communists, and the smaller leftist Syriza party have pledged to fight to bring down the government to prevent further belt-tightening in a country already mired in a deep recession.

Papademos must secure the latest installement of a 2010 bailout to avert bankruptcy by mid-December, and enforce reforms agreed as part of a second rescue deal agreed last month.

He took the first steps towards writing off a large chunk of Greece's 350-billion-euro debt on Wednesday night when he held talks with Charles Dallara, the managing director of the Institute of International Finance who is leading negotiations on behalf of the banks.

Brussels has maintained pressure on Athens to commit itself in writing to the measures required by its foreign creditors, a pledge which two parties within the governing coalition have so far resisted.

The November 17 demonstration is a treasured anniversary to many Greeks.

At least 44 people were killed in the 1973 military crackdown on the student uprising at the Athens Polytechnic university, an event generally considered to have broken the junta's grip on power and helped the restoration of democracy.

The bloodstained Greek flag that flew over the Polytechnic that night is traditionally carried at the head of the demonstration in the capital.

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