Three people were on Wednesday killed as protests in the capital over the government's spending cuts turned violent.
"We have found three dead people in the building that is on fire," the fire brigade said in a statement.
Protestors tried to storm Greece's parliament Wednesday and hurled paving stones and Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with tear gas as tens of thousands of outraged Greeks took to the streets to protest harsh new measures aimed at saving their country from bankruptcy.
Opposition to the government's austerity package, which includes tax increases and a three-year wage and pension freeze, spilled into the massive protest rally. The public-sector workers union has called a strike, which shut most businesses and government offices, and canceled all flights at Athens International Airport.
Wednesday's walkout, the third general strike in as many months, comes as the government races to push the austerity drive through parliament, looking to its comfortable majority there to pass the package on Thursday.
Among the major measures, the government is to cut 13th and 14th month bonus pay for civil servants and retirees; require three years more for pension contributions; and raise the retirement age for women to 65, the same level as men currently.
The violent protesters were repelled by police in full riot gear hurling repeated rounds of tear gas and flash bombs, and smoke wafted through blocks of central Athens.
Masked youths threw petrol bombs, broke shop windows and shouted "Murderers" and "Burn the parliament", in a sign of swelling public anger at the government's plans for painful wage and pension cutbacks.
A giant plume of dark grey smoke rose over the central Stadiou Avenue where the two-storey commercial building, which houses a branch of the Marfin bank, was burning. Officials said two other buildings in the centre of the capital had been set on fire during the protest.
Police estimated the march at about 27,000 people. But eyewitnesses said there were at least 40,000 -- easily the biggest protest since Greece was first hit by a debt crisis late last year.
Public and private sector workers are staging their third joint strike this year. They have grounded flights, shut shops and brought public transport to a standstill.
"These measures are horrible," said Maria Tzivara, a 54-year-old saleswoman. "I'm afraid I'll get fired or my salary will be cut. It will be very tough."
Prime Minister George Papandreou submitted an austerity bill to parliament on Tuesday that envisages 30 billion euros ($40 billion) in new savings through deep cuts in wages and pensions and a rise in value-added tax (VAT).
The conservative opposition has vowed to vote against the bill. The government enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament and expects to pass the legislation this week.
Until now, anti-austerity protests had been fairly peaceful but the violence on Wednesday echoed that seen in riots that shook the country in December 2008 after a teenager was killed by police.
Related news reports:Last Mod: 05 Mayıs 2010, 16:45