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Protesters battle police in Athens

Hundreds of youths have smashed and looted stores in central Athens and clashed with riot police during a massive anti-government rally against painful new austerity measures that won initial parliamentary approval in a vote.

The rioting came on the first day of a 48-hour nationwide general strike that brought services in much of Greece to a standstill, grounding flights for hours, leaving ferries tied up in port and shutting down customs offices, stores and banks.

More than 100,000 people took to the streets of the Greek capital to demonstrate against the austerity bill, which includes new tax hikes, further pension and salary cuts, the suspension on reduced pay of 30,000 public servants and the suspension of collective labour contracts.

Creditors have demanded the measures before they give Greece more funds from a 110 billion euro package of bailout loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.

Greece says it will run out of money in mid-November without the eight billion euro installment.

But Greek citizens said they already are reeling from more than one-and-a-half years of austerity measures.

"We just can't take it any more. There is desperation, anger and bitterness," said Nikos Anastasopoulos, head of a workers' union for an Athens municipality, as he joined the demonstration.

The bill won initial approval in the 300-member Parliament late on Wednesday, with 154 deputies voting in favour on principle and 141 against. A second vote, on the bill's articles, is due later. Only after that procedure will the bill have passed.

Hours before the vote, one of Athens' largest demonstrations in years degenerated into violence as masked and hooded youths pelted riot police outside parliament with petrol bombs and chunks of marble smashed from buildings, underground stops and pavements.

Police responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Authorities said 50 police were injured in the clashes, along with at least three demonstrators, while 33 people were detained for questioning or arrested for alleged involvement in the rioting. At least three journalists covering the riots were also slightly hurt.

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