Greek riot police fired tear gas to disperse protesters at an anti-austerity rally in Athens held during a national general strike as EU leaders were to tackle the euro zone crisis at a summit in Brussels.

A 66-year-old man has died from apparent heart failure during a demonstration in Athens where riot police fired tear gas to repel firebomb-throwing protesters, news reports said.
The man collapsed and was taken to an Athens hospital where he died, Skai radio said. Another five people including two policemen were injured in sporadic clashes that broke out during the protest.

Tension during the otherwise calm demonstration flared when protesters broke through a police line outside luxury hotels on central Syntagma Square.

Scattered groups of youths attacked police with stones and firebombs, and police retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades, later charging the youths to clear the square.

The demonstration later resumed.

About 25,000 protesters joined the rallies in Athens, called by unions and left-wing parties against the tough fiscal medicine that has spelled misery for many Greeks.

Another 17,000 marched in the second city of Thessaloniki.

“The people must follow the road of rupture and disengagement from the European Union,’’ said Communist Party leader Aleka Papariga.

The head of leading union GSEE, Yiannis Panagopoulos, said another general strike would be held in Greece on November 14.

The coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is holding delicate negotiations with Greece’s creditors, the EU, IMF and European Central Bank, to secure the release of loans needed to avoid bankruptcy.

The government has been told by its creditors to jump-start flagging economic reforms and cut the budget by 9.2 billion euros next year in order to secure a 31.5-billion-euro loan slice next month. The money is part of an overall EU-IMF bailout of 130 billion euros that is tied to Greek reform pledges, including a long-delayed privatization drive.

At the evening EU summit in Brussels, Samaras will try to persuade his European peers to give the country more time to apply the latest cuts, which he has promised will be the last.

“We will do everything required to bring Greece to the [cutting] edge of European competitiveness and make it a model democratic society, a modern economy,” Samaras told fellow leaders at a meeting of the European Popular Party in Bucharest yesterday.

But he added: “People are not ‘spare parts’. You have to fix the problems while keeping the society together, and its cohesion alive.”

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Shayne Heffernan

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