ATHENS, Greece, May 5 (UPI) -- Three people died in massive protests against austerity measures needed to keep Greece from economic collapse, police said.
Greek President Karolos Papoulias said Wednesday the deadly protests had brought his debt-laden country to "the brink of the abyss," the BBC reported.
"We are all responsible so that it does not take the step into the void," the British network reported Papoulias said in a statement.
Voice of America reported tens of thousands of demonstrators marching through central Athens while the Athens News Agency-Macedonial Press agency reported three died in the firebombing of a bank.
Riot police used stun grenades and tear gas in street battles with rock-throwing demonstrators, VOA reported. One group of protesters attempted to storm Parliament.
The Athens News Agency said a dozen people were arrested in Athens and 28 more were taken in for questioning. The news agency said 29 police officers were injured.
One protester blamed the police for the escalation in violence, the British network said.
"It's something tragic but I think that the responsibility in the last instance lies with the government because the government unleashed a tremendous amount of police violence against a huge demonstration," Panayotis Sotiris told the BBC.
Violence also was reported in Salonika.
The crisis has sent the euro, which is shared by 16 European countries including Greece, plummeting. Late Wednesday it was down to $1.2818. It has traded as high as $1.60.
Prime Minister George Papandreou has proposed $40 billion in budget cuts, including pension rollbacks, tax increases and wage freezes.
A general strike shut down airports, schools and hospitals in advance of a parliamentary vote Thursday on the austerity measures.
The New York Times reported flight cancellations, a halt in numerous services and closed tourist sites as workers protested the government's plan to trim the budget.
The budget adjustments would put Greece in compliance with terms set out by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund for a $143 billion loan package to help Greece meet its debt obligations. In Germany Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the bailout was "about nothing less than the future of Europe and the future of Germany in Europe."
Urging German lawmakers to ratify the country's contribution to the bailout, Merkel said, "It must go forward so as not to unleash a chain reaction onto international markets that would contaminate Europe."