Angry Greeks joined mass street protests on Wednesday to shout their anger against a government they feel deceived them by promising to rescue them from the debt crisis but squeezing them harder instead.
Tens of thousands of striking Greeks rallied outside parliament in one of the biggest protests since the crisis broke out nearly two years ago, as lawmakers debated a new wave of public sector pay cuts and layoffs demanded by international lenders in exchange for more bailout funds.
"Who are they trying to fool? The government won't save us. With these measures the poor become poorer and the rich richer. Well I say: 'No, thank you. I don't want your rescue'," said 50-year old civil servant Akis Papadopoulos.
Like many other civil servants, Papadopoulos and his wife, parents of one, lost 20 percent of their income last year. With the new austerity bill expected to be approved by parliament on Wednesday and Thursday, they now fear they will lose their jobs.
Greece's debt crisis is threatening the euro and international lenders are requesting tough measures to cut deficits. But Athens keeps missing agreed targets, requiring fresh waves of belt-tightening.
"We want them out because they can only bring us misery. They are squeezing people dry instead of saving the country," said Dina Kolovou, a 46 year-old municipal worker, before marching to parliament.
Banners reading "Down with the government" and "Shame on you! Leave now!" were hoisted outside parliament, where violence broke out between riot police and black clad youths. The smell of tear gas filled the square and plume of black smoke from petrol bombs rose to the sunny sky.
FEELING THE PAIN
The pain from wage cuts, tax hikes and job losses has been felt in both the public sector and the private sector in a country where the economy is in recession for the third straight year and unemployment is hitting record highs.
"They are taking away our money, our wages, our lives. Enough! They must go now," said private sector office worker Kyriaki Gavala, 29, who took to streets with colleagues for the first time.
"People say I'm lucky to have a job. But I'm angry. I see people losing everything and I know my turn will come soon."
With unemployment hitting record highs, younger Greeks also feel despair and many turn to universities abroad or seek jobs in other countries, mostly in Western Europe.
Anastasia Kolokotsa, 17, plans to be one of them. With her mother working in the public sector and supporting her and her two brothers, one unemployed and the other a student, she says Greece has nothing to offer her generation anymore.
"We have no future here. All young people want to go abroad. There are no jobs, there's nothing here," she said, protesting with her schoolmates outside parliament. "We want freedom, freedom to do what we want. We want someone new in power to change things, to bring hope."