Thousands demonstrate, strike in Greece against pension reform

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Protesters join a rally against social security reforms in central Athens on December 3, 2015 as unions stage a 24-hour general strike

Protesters join a rally against social security reforms in central Athens on December 3, 2015 as unions stage a 24-hour general strike Greek unions paralysed public services and transport today with a general strike over a planned social security overhaul -- the second walkout in less than a month. The action hit trains, shipping and ferry services to Greek islands while hospitals were operating with emergency staff only. (AFP Photo/Louisa Gouliamaki)

Athens (AFP) - Some 15,000 people demonstrated in Athens on Thursday as unions held a general strike against a planned social security overhaul -- the second walkout in less than a month.

The protest was largely peaceful until the end, when youths lobbed a few firebombs towards riot police outside the finance ministry and parliament.

The police responded with stun grenades but the youths retreated and the violence did not escalate.

The 24-hour strike paralysed public services, trains and ferry services to Greek islands while hospitals were operating with emergency staff only.

It came as the labour ministry works on a new social security system under which state-guaranteed pensions will be reportedly cut by half -- to a minimum of 384 euros -- and the rest will depend on a person's income and years of social security payments.

- 'Dogs howl' -

Lawyers, teachers and state-employed doctors also participated in the walkout. Journalists went on a solidarity strike on Wednesday.

A similar general strike was held on November 12 against the EU bailout and accompanying tax hikes.

Over 20,000 people demonstrated in Athens at the time, and sporadic violence broke out between police and hooded youths who vandalised public property.

The left-wing government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, has been weakened by his decision in July to accept a third EU bailout with strict austerity conditions to avoid a Greek exit from the euro.

Tsipras finds himself in a precarious political position since his leftist-nationalist coalition in November saw its parliamentary majority whittled to 153 deputies in the 300-seat parliament after a divisive vote on home foreclosures -- another measure demanded by international creditors.

Despite his narrow parliamentary majority, Tsipras on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that his government is on its last legs.

"Dogs howl but the caravan goes on," Tsipras told his lawmakers.

"We will endure and achieve our targets. The people will judge us at the end of our term...in the autumn of 2019," the 41-year-old PM said.

He stressed that Syriza has won three successive ballots since 2014, not counting a referendum against austerity in July.

Officially, Tsipras' Syriza party applauds strike action against the EU bailout, which the PM has called a "tactical retreat".

Nikolaos Adamopoulos, head of the leading civil servants' union Adedy, said opposition to the bailouts has already brought down three governments, suggesting a similar fate for Tsipras.

"There will be a rearrangement in the political scene. There may be a majority in parliament in favour of the bailout but this is not reflected in society," Adamopoulos told AFP.

"The people do not trust parties, they showed it in the last election," Adamopoulos said.

In the September election, nearly one in two eligible Greeks -- 44 percent -- did not turn up to vote.