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Greece: Police detain 80 in squat protest

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek police used special forces to end a standoff at a squat in central Athens on Wednesday, while protesters in response briefly occupied the offices of a political party in the country's coalition government.

Police said about 80 people were detained for questioning in the two incidents which ended peacefully at the dilapidated building and the offices of the Democratic Left party.

The incident came weeks after authorities had forcibly cleared the building, which had been used as a squat for about 20 years, in a case that has become an issue of political contention between the government and the left-wing opposition.

Police say that the building, known as Villa Amalia, was used by groups involved in violent street protests.

"I would like to make this clear: A democratic society cannot allow the forces of lawlessness and chaos to hinder the country's course to recovery," said Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias. "It is a major provocation to our democratic system and harmony to occupy the offices of a parliamentary party — of the Democratic Left. I believe that all parties should make their position know on this issue."

The main opposition party, the radical left Syriza, has said the police were heavy-handed in their initial operation, and accused the government of trying to capitalize on the attempted re-occupation of the squat by using it to divert public attention from Greece's financial woes.

"It is a strategy of tension, suppression and diversion which not only doesn't solve the problem but creates new ones," Syriza said in a statement.

"We are not going to make a big issue out of a minor one when most households are literally freezing because they can't pay the electricity bill or buy heating fuel, or when dozens of businesses are closing down while millions of unemployed are being crushed on the margins of society," it said, adding that it condemned the occupation of the Democratic Left's offices.

Greece has been gripped by a severe financial crisis since late 2009, and relies on funds from international rescue loans. In return, a series of successive governments have had to introduce harsh austerity measures that have slashed salaries and pensions and repeatedly hiked taxes.