Riot police, protesters clash at Acropolis

ATHENS, Greece Up to 100 Culture Ministry workers had shut down the Acropolis on Wednesday morning, complaining they were owed up to 22 months' worth of back pay. The protesters barricaded themselves inside, padlocked the entrance gates and refused to allow any tourists in until their demands were met.

Police in riot gear arrived Thursday morning after a court order said the protesters were hindering access to an ancient site and its 2,500-year-old marble temples.

"Riot police and violence won't break the strike," the protesters chanted, clinging to the entrance gates.

But police used a side entrance to break into the site, then used pepper spray to clear the protesters and journalists covering the standoff from the main gate. At least one protester was led away in handcuffs to a waiting police bus.

Dozens of bemused tourists who had arrived early Thursday morning to visit the ancient site looked on as the standoff unfolded, occasionally snapping pictures of the riot police.

"We know the workers have a right to protest, but it is not fair that people who come from all over the world to see the Acropolis should be prevented from getting in," said Spanish tourist Ainhoa Garcia shortly before the clashes broke out.

Greece is in the midst of a tough austerity program which has cut public workers' salaries and trimmed pensions in an effort to pull the country out of a severe debt crisis. The austerity plan has led to a series of strikes and demonstrations as workers' unions protest the cutbacks.

Guards and workers at archaeological sites have long been complaining they are owed months of back pay, and have shut down the Acropolis before in protest, though usually only for a few hours at a time.

But authorities often are sensitive to protests at the emblematic ancient site, particularly as the country largely relies on tourism for revenue.

And visitors who have traveled from far-flung countries were unimpressed by the protest.

"We think this is a shame. We will not recommend that people come to Greece," said Veronica Traverso, a tourist from Argentina standing with a friend outside the padlocked gates. "We are not to blame for Greece's troubles."

Traverso said she had only two days to spend in Athens and was due to leave the city in a couple of hours -- her hopes of visiting the Acropolis dashed.
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