Several thousand banner-waving protesters staged rallies in Athens on Sunday to protest budget cuts as ministers prepare to approve a new 130-billion-euro bailout for the debt-crippled nation.
Hundreds of police shadowed the latest demonstrations, held a week after parliament passed new austerity measures that sparked protests in which gangs of rioters torched dozens of buildings in the Greek capital.
"Poverty and Hunger Have No Nationality", read one banner carried by demonstrators on Syntagma square outside parliament. "We Are Greeks, Merkel and Sarkozy Are Freaks" said another, referring to the German and French leaders.
As the demonstrators chanted, Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos left for Brussels where he was to hold talks with officials ahead of Monday's crucial Eurogroup meeting of eurozone ministers, his office said.
A European source told AFP that Papademos would also attend the Eurogroup meeting.
About 1,500 people joined a rally called by Greece's private and public sector unions, while about 2,000 gathered for a second protest sponsored by left-wing radical parties to call for an "uprising" against the government.
"We will come every day if need be," said Xenia Amaricoulou, a drugstore vendor in her forties.
"They up there (pointing to the parliament) should be aware we are not accepting any measures that would take us futher down."
"Why should we be punished for something that we haven't done? I earn my salary, believe me, I don't know whether our politicians earn a single cent," she said.
A similar protest took place in Greece's second city Thessaloniki.
Despite the harsh austerity measures demanded by Greece's international creditors to stave off bankrupcty, an opinion poll found that 76 percent of Greeks backed the nation's European outlook and did not want to leave the euro.
But it also found that almost 82 percent of Greeks blamed their governments for the country's deep economic woes.
The latest government measures include a 22-percent cut in the minimum wage, while pensions of more than 1,300 euros ($1,700) a month will be slashed by 12 percent, further adding to the economic hardship of ordinary Greeks.
"Everyone should take to the streets," one protester, taxi-cab owner Gregoris Militis, 52, told AFP.
"The measures are the worst thing that could have happened. It is outrageous," said pensioner Christos Artemis. "All the people are suffering. Shortly we will be asking ourselves where the bread is?"
Unions reject what they brand "unacceptable demands" set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, saying they violate workers' rights and collective agreements.
But EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Greece should focus on getting itself out of its economic mess.
"I wish the Greeks would concentrate on rebuilding their state rather than blaming scapegoats outside Greece for their plight," Reding, who is also vice-president of the European Commission, told the Austrian daily Kurier.
The latest Greek cuts are aimed at reviving the nation's moribund economy -- which is battling a 350-billion-euro debt mountain -- by making businesses more attractive to investors and reducing the size of the parallel economy.
The measures, which total 3.2 billion euros, were drawn up in return for the new bailout, which eurozone finance ministers are due to finalise in Brussels Monday to try to save Greece from bankruptcy and a possible exit from the euro.
On Saturday, the cabinet approved cuts that made up a 350-million-euro shortfall in the package. A senior official told AFP in Brussels last week however that a 5.5-billion-euro hole remained.
The second bailout deal would write off 100 billion euros of debt and provide a loan of 130 billion euros to Greece, which already received a 110-billion-euro rescue approved in May 2010.
Time is of the essence for Papademos's government because without the bailout Greece will be unable to meet a bond repayment of 14.5 billion euros on March 20.
EU partners see Greece as the victim of chronic financial mismanagement by dynastic political forces -- what Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti last week called a "perfect catalogue" of errors.
The new bailout has been likened to the aid equivalent of a hospital drip, with a small army of EU officials heading to Athens to make sure Greece delivers on its austerity pledges.
"I am confident they (the finance ministers) will agree on the package," Reding said, echoing comments by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. "But under some conditions. The money should not flow into a bottomless pit."