Protesters scuffle with riot police in Athens

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Scuffles broke out Friday between demonstrators and police outside the finance ministry in central Athens, as Greece's international debt inspectors met with ministers to discuss the pace of reforms.

The demonstrators, mainly finance ministry cleaning ladies, school guards and municipal workers, were protesting job cuts required under Greece's bailout agreement. They attempted to block a major avenue outside the ministry and jostled with riot police, who used small amounts of pepper spray. At least one protester was injured.

Later, about a dozen jeering protesters moved toward the motorcade carrying the debt inspectors away from the ministry, and threw a plastic water bottle at one of the cars. Police prevented any more demonstrators from getting close, and the vehicles were able to speed off.

Authorities detained 17 protesters who had attempted to enter another nearby government ministry.

Since mid-2010, Greece has depended on billions of euros in rescue loans from other European Union countries and from the International Monetary Fund. In return, it has had to overhaul its economy, slashing public spending and repeatedly raising taxes to reduce debt.

While the fiscal numbers have been improving, and Greece's economy seems poised to grow this year after a brutal six-year recession, the crisis has taken a massive social toll and unemployment has hit 28 percent.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the improving debt figures and a primary surplus _ which excludes debt servicing costs _ are proof Greece is on the mend.

"I think what we've done - losing 25 percent of GDP ... shows we had the courage to do exactly what was necessary," he said after talks with Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen.

"What we need now is a growth orientation," he said. "I think there is more than enough evidence to our European partners that we are on the right track."

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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