By ELENA BECATOROS
ATHENS, Greece (AP) â¿¿ Protesters forced their way into a government building in Greece's latest anti-austerity protests Wednesday, reaching just outside a minister's office before being expelled and clashing with riot police outside.
Police detained more than 30 protesters, most union heads, sparking clashes with about 200 demonstrators gathered outside the Labor Ministry in central Athens. Police used pepper spray, batons and tear gas to repel them.
The government said the demonstrators caused damage inside the building and threatened the ministerâ¿¿ an accusation the protesters adamantly denied.
Greece has been gripped by a severe financial crisis since late 2009 and is being kept afloat by billions of euros in rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. In return, the government has imposed waves of spending cuts and tax hikes, leading to severe salary and pension cuts and leaving unemployment spiraling to above 26 percent.
Union members were protesting planned reforms to the pension and income contribution system â¿¿ part of the latest spending cuts in the bailout program.
Other measures that took effect this year include a new 25 percent cut to the incomes of most public servants, leading to a string of new strikes and protests.
At least one protestor in Wednesday's demonstration was taken to hospital in an ambulance, while at least another two were treated by fellow protesters on the spot after collapsing, apparently from the effects of pepper spray.
A ministry official said about 30 protesters made it into the Labor Ministry, breaking doors, overturning chairs and knocking files off tables. They reached the waiting room outside the minister's office, where the minister, Yiannis Vroutsis, was present but unaffected.
"Violence in all its forms must be condemned, not only in words but also by actions," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said. "The raid on the office of the labour minister, the material destruction and the threats against Yiannis Vroutsis are practices which aim to dynamite the political climate at a very critical time for the country."