Workers in Greece and Spain are staging protests over their respective governments' austerity measures.
Thousands of striking Greeks marched on parliament on Thursday, in a test of the government's resolve to implement tough austerity measures demanded by the EU and IMF over its debt crisis.
Schools and government offices were shut and hospitals were operating on skeleton staff. Tourist sites were also closed, ships were kept in port or prevented from docking, and domestic flights were disrupted.
"Thieves come out," the protesters chanted in front of parliament where hundreds of riot police carrying batons and shields ringed the steps of the neo-classical building.
Thousands of demonstrators filled the square in front of parliament.
"These measures are destroying everything we have fought for. Where are the measures against unemployment? We were not the ones who created this crisis," said unemployed Nikos Galiatsatos, 26, one of the marchers.
Riot police closely shadowed a group of young protesters carrying anarchist flags along the march.
The strike was called by unions representing 2.5 million workers, half the country's workforce, who want the government to withdraw austerity measures agreed with the EU and IMF in return for a 110 billion-euro ($137 billion) emergency loan.
But the Socialist Greek government, in power for seven months, has so far shown no sign of caving in to the protests.
"Greece is changing rapidly, we are determined," Prime Minister George Papandreou told the Arab Economic Forum in Beirut.
"Burden on poor"
While there is palpable public anger against the measures, opinion polls show most Greeks agree reform is necessary to stem the debt crisis. But the overwhelming majority feel ordinary people are being made to pay while the rich still evade taxes.
"These measures are unfair and they burden us who have been working for all these years. The ones who became rich after stealing money from the state, those should be the ones who pay," said Angeliki Papageorgiou, a striking public sector employee outside the burnt bank.
The fear of being stranded by strikes or getting caught up in violent protests has chilled the tourism sector, leading to thousands of cancellations in an industry which generates nearly 20 percent of GDP and provides one in five jobs.
Three cruise ships with more than 7,000 passengers were prevented from docking in Athens because of the strike and left for other destinations, coastguard officials said.
Air traffic controllers said they would not strike on Thursday because they did not want to hurt tourism, but other walkouts affected some domestic flights.
"Bypassing Spain parliament"
Spanish unions vowed on Thursday to fight austerity moves in the courts as the Socialist government said it would introduce a contentious cut in public sector wages through a royal decree, bypassing parliament.
The UGT union, which was already planning a public sector strike on June 8, said it would contest the legality of such wage cuts at the centre of plans for budget reductions of 15 billion euros ($18.62 billion) announced last week.
"We are going to challenge the royal decree on wage cuts," Julio Lacuerda, a representative from Spain's second largest union UGT, told a news conference after meeting government officials to receive details of the pay reductions.
"This is a complete mockery of our legal right to bargain," added Enrique Foussoul of Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), Spain's largest union.
A government spokesman said the cuts, including an average 5 percent wage decrease this year for public sector workers, would be passed by royal decree at a cabinet meeting later Thursday, thereby going straight into Spain's statute books.
The cuts would take effect in pay cheques from June.
Spain's government announced more spending cuts last week to accelerate a reduction in its budget deficit after the European Union and International Monetary Fund approved $1 trillion in emergency funds for weak euro economies.