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Greek steel plant clash gets political

Athens, Greece - Riot police used tear gas against striking steel workers Friday, in a rare government intervention into a labor dispute to break up picket lines that have closed a factory outside Athens since October 31 last year.

Seven protesters were detained, while an opposition-backed protest rally took place at the site later Friday. It was the first confrontation between Greece's new conservative-led government and left-wing opposition parties opposed to the country's bailout agreements with international rescue lenders.

Indian migrant workers Nermal Chand, left and Vije Kumar who were attacked at their home by masked men near Athens, attend a news conference organized by anti-racism campaigners in Athens, Thursday, July 19, 2012. Human rights groups say racially motivated attacks have soared in Greece in recent months. The extreme right Golden Dawn party won 18 seats in parliament in elections last month. It denies direct involvement in the attacks. (AP Photo/Dimitri Messinis). Credit: AP

Police intervened shortly after dawn Friday, dispersing dozens of striking workers outside the entrance of the plant in Aspropyrgos, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) west of the capital. Clashes broke out several times in the following three hours, but police said their use of tear gas was very limited.

State-run NET television said conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had intervened personally to reopen the plant after a ruling last month by an Athens court declaring the strike illegal.

“The law will be upheld and people's sacred right to work will be guaranteed,” NET quoted Samaras as saying.

The strikers are protesting layoffs at the private Elliniki Halyvourgia plant, which last year employed about 400 staff, and plans by the factory's operators to introduce more part-time work.

“The decision (to strike) was taken by a majority of the workers at a general assembly. That is a democratic right,” Giorgos Sifonios, head of the strikers' organizing committee, said. “We are not giving up our struggle.”

The main opposition Syriza party described the police intervention as an “unprovoked military-style action against striking steel workers.”

About 1,000 members of a Communist-backed trade union, along with Syriza supporters and others, attended a rally outside the factory Friday, in a demonstration that ended peacefully.

Support anti-bailout parties surged in general elections last month, forcing Samaras' conservatives to join traditional rival Socialists and a small left-wing party in a coalition government.

Debt inspectors from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are due to return to Athens next week.

Before those meetings, Samaras spoke on the telephone Friday with ECB President Mario Draghi and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde. - Sapa-AP

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