'Superhuman' effort by Greek police

Athens - Police in Athens waged a "superhuman" effort to contain violence during anti-austerity demonstrations that injured dozens and damaged 170 businesses, a minister said on Monday.

"[The police] made superhuman efforts, as did the fire department, despite the fact that they were attacked and impeded from reaching fire outbreaks," Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis told reporters.

"I would like to remind people that we had six hours of clashes [on Sunday]," said Papoutsis, whose job was reportedly on the line before the government insisted he would stay on.

Squads of masked men clashed with police on Sunday, setting buildings on fire and looting businesses as about 80 000 demonstrators took to the streets to protest austerity measures, according to police estimates.

Overall, 170 businesses around the city centre sustained damage, including banks, bookstores, jewellery shops, home appliance stores and supermarkets, the Athens chamber of commerce said.

Officials say 45 buildings were wholly or partly destroyed by fire.

Senior police officers spoke of an organised plan that sought to cause casualties.

"Through their actions, they showed that they sought human casualties," Greek police chief Nikos Papagiannopoulos told a news conference.

Athens police chief Ioannis Lioungas added that 15 people had to be rescued from a burning bank, reviving memories of three people - one of them a pregnant woman - who died inside another fire-bombed bank branch in 2010.

The health ministry said 54 civilians had been hurt, while police said 68 members of the force had suffered injuries on Sunday.

Police say they made 67 arrests.

Greece's new budget cuts, approved by parliament late on Sunday, were demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund as the price of a second €130bn debt rescue to avert imminent bankruptcy and keep Greece in the eurozone.

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