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Riots in Greece

Last week I watched as Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens became an anarchists' and protestors' theme park.  At one end is the parliament building where the guards perform an extraordinary slow motion march wearing white tights, a white skirt, a white blouse with very full sleeves, an embroidered vest, red cap, and shoes with big pom-poms. Manly is not the first word that comes to mind. But at the first whiff of tear gas - and my goodness there was a lot of it - they were replaced by the riot police with gas masks, shields and protective clothing.

At the other end of the square is the finance ministry - and I was reporting for the BBC from the roof of a largely derelict office block opposite a series of normally elegant five star hotels. In the square itself were tens of thousands of protestors - trades unionists, communists and anarchists. The two latter groups had come hell bent on confrontation with the authorities - and boy did they deliver. For hour after hour they hurled rocks, blast bombs and molotov cocktails at the police; and in reply came the tear gas, pepper spray and stun grenades. It was ugly and unrelenting - and often choking. The anarchists came well prepared - who would have thought so many of them would have their own gas masks? They also brought hammers and chisels. Why? Because the normally elegant Syntagma Square has beautifully tiled marbled staircases and balustrades. Chisel off the marble, and you have a perfect projectile to spear at the police.

A colleague commented that if only these guys had worked as hard as they rioted, then maybe the Greek economy would not be in the mess that it is. The anger felt in Greece over the latest austerity program is widespread - polls suggest that some 80% of Greeks oppose the measures that have now been adopted. The economy is tanking - businesses are folding, social services are being cut and taxes are going up. All in the name of cutting the deficit.

But back to Syntagma Square and my anarchists' theme park.  After two days and nights of rioting, the protest was over. The following morning all was calm again - tourist buses stopped outside buildings newly burnt out by the looters, glaziers swarmed over the square measuring up windows -- and stonemasons will have months of work ahead restoring marble facades. At least some parts of the Greek economy are set to receive a boost. This is Jon Sopel for CBS News in London.