ATHENS — Greek riot police fired tear gas at protesters on the sidelines of a large anti-austerity rally in Athens during a national general strike as EU leaders prepared to tackle the eurozone crisis at a summit in Brussels.
As brief clashes broke out, officials said a 65-year-old protester collapsed and died from a heart attack but it was not immediately clear if his death was linked to the sporadic bursts of tear gas.
"A 65-year-old man was taken to hospital where efforts to revive him failed," a health ministry source told AFP, adding: "There were no bruises on his body."
A police source said the man was picked up several hundred metres (yards) from the area where the clashes took place, while other reports said he was found on central Syntagma Square, close to the scene.
The ministry official said three people had also been injured in the clashes that broke out around Syntagma Square during the protest against a new wave of austerity cuts that the government is preparing to introduce next month.
Tens of thousands of people took part in the Athens protest while a smaller demonstration was held in Greece's second city Thessaloniki, ahead of a broader mobilisation in southern European countries planned for next month.
The police said some 26,000 people joined rallies in Athens but AFP reporters on the scene estimated the number to be much larger.
Scattered groups of youths threw stones and firebombs at the police, who retaliated with tear gas and stun grenades then charged to clear the square.
Greeks reject additional cutbacks the government plans next month in order to unlock access to EU-IMF loans.
One in four people is officially unemployed -- with the real number higher still, say unions -- and the economy is in its sixth year of recession.
The head of the leading GSEE union, Yiannis Panagopoulos, indicated that another general strike would be held in Greece on November 14, part of a European mobilisation by unions that would also hit Portugal and Spain.
The coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is holding delicate negotiations with Greece's so-called 'troika' of creditors -- the EU, IMF and European Central Bank -- to secure the release of loans needed to avoid bankruptcy.
The government has been told by its creditors to jump-start flagging economic reforms and cut the budget by 9.2 billion euros ($12 billion) next year in order to secure a 31.5-billion-euro loan slice next month.
The money is part of an overall EU-IMF bailout of 130 billion euros that is tied to Greek reform pledges, including a long-delayed privatisation drive.
Waves of austerity measures over the past two years managed to slash Greece's runaway deficit by over six percent of output, at the cost of cuts to wages, pensions and benefits.
"Three generations have already been wiped out. We are here to prevent a fourth being wiped out too," said Yianna Hassandra, a 35-year-old unemployed woman who used to work in a shipping firm.
At the evening EU summit in Brussels, Samaras will try to persuade his European peers to give Greece more time to apply the latest cuts, which he has promised will be the last.
Samaras and his political allies at home want the latest reform overhaul to extend over four years, to 2016, instead of the current timeframe of two years.
The IMF has publicly accepted the idea but European leaders are sceptical, arguing the extension will require additional funds which their respective parliaments are unlikely to approve.
The release of the 31.5 billion euros which the Greek government needs to recapitalise banks and replenish liquidity in the economy depends on a troika report on the state of the economy expected to be ready next month.
Samaras had hoped to travel to Brussels with an agreement with the troika on the required austerity cuts but a last-minute disagreement on labour reforms and civil service layoffs has left a number of key issues unresolved.
The troika mission on Wednesday said most of the "core measures" required to restore momentum in Greece had been agreed and the aim was to reach a full agreement "over the coming days."
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