By Lefteris Papadimas and Dina Kyriakidou
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek riot police on Tuesday hurled teargas at demonstrators trying to march to the American embassy in Athens to protest against visiting U.S. Secretary of State
Police in full riot gear clashed with protesters trying to break through their cordon and police used teargas. The leftist and anti-war activists fired back with sticks, stones and petrol bombs.
Rice is meeting Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and her Greek counterpart Dora Bakoyanni as part of a five-day trip to Europe that also includes Turkey and Bulgaria.
Thousands of protesters, waving banners reading "Rice Go Home," gathered in central Athens vowing to reach the heavily-guarded embassy but most retreated under the teargas.
A small group of self-styled anarchists trailing the march continued clashing with police, burning cars and smashing shop windows. There were no reports of injuries or arrests.
"This is an anti-war rally," said protester Panayiotis Hiundis, 26, a school teacher. "We are not protesting just against Rice, but the imperialist, war-mongering U.S. government."
Greek leftists and peace activists usually protest against visits by senior U.S. officials. Former Secretary of State
Colin Powell canceled a visit to the Athens 2004 Olympics for fear of violent protests.
NATO allies for decades, many Greeks are still angry at Washington for backing the far-right military junta that ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974.
"RICE GO HOME"
On Monday, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) surprised police by managing to hoist a giant poster reading "Condoleezza Rice Go Home" from the central Athens Music Hall, next to the U.S. embassy.
Ahead of the visit, anarchists claimed responsibility for planting several firebombs, burning cars but causing no injuries.
Anti-war and anti-globalization groups are also participating in the march.
Rice told reporters on the plane to Athens she would discuss the Balkans and ways to end the division of the island of Cyprus, a major stumbling block to Turkey’s
European Union accession hopes.
Divided among ethnic Greek and Turkish communities since Turkey invaded in 1974, Cyprus has evaded repeated U.N. efforts to re-unite in a federation.
The latest peace plan was rejected by Greek Cypriots, controlling the island’s only internationally-recognized government, in a 2004 referendum.
"We also want to have discussions on how to move forward on Cyprus," Rice said. "I think that everybody would like to see that effort get back on track."
KKE said Rice’s purpose was to gather support against
Iran over its nuclear program.
"We protest against Rice, who is here seeking allies for a new war against Iran," said Costas Kazakos, a senior KKE member.
Iran is embroiled in a dispute with the West over its nuclear program, which the United States says is designed to build bombs. Tehran says it only wants to generate electricity. Washington has not ruled out military action against Iran.