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GAWTP ALERT…Clashes as Greeks protest crisis measures

The day’s protests were otherwise peaceful. Labor unions organized the protest march amid a 24-hour general strike that grounded flights, shut schools and crippled public services, in a show of strength against the government.

The walkout comes as Greece is considering tougher austerity measures to ward off a financial crisis that has undermined the euro and raised fears that financial market contagion will spread to other weak economies such as Portugal, Spain and Italy. The European Union has issued a vague promise to support Greece, which has some euro53 billion in debt coming due this year, but the government of Prime Minister George Papandreou has pressed for more specific guarantees to shore up market confidence.

The government says it won’t need a bailout and will stick to its plans to make sharp cutbacks.

There was disruption elsewhere in Europe by workers unsettled by the threat to their jobs from the slow economy and government plans to cut back. In France, a strike by air traffic controllers disrupted flights for a second day. And in Spain, tens of thousands of demonstrators on Tuesday rallied in several cities to protest a government proposal to raise the retirement age by two years to 67.

Greece has already imposed broad spending cuts but says it is under pressure from the European Union to cut salaries in the civil service, traditionally looked to as a jobs provider.

Officials from the EU and International Monetary Fund are in Athens to inspect public finances, ahead of a March 16 deadline to show signs of fiscal improvement or face imposed additional austerity measures.

Unions say cutting Greeks’ so-called 14th salary