ATHENS, Greece -- 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 fiscal 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 in the capital's main Syntagma Square outside the ministry and jostled with riot police, who used small amounts of pepper spray.
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Earlier, authorities had detained more than a dozen protesters who attempted to enter another nearby government ministry.
Since mid-2010, Greece has been dependent on billions of euros in rescue loans from other European Union countries that use the euro and from the International Monetary Fund. In return, it has had to overhaul its economy, slashing public spending and repeatedly raising taxes to reduce its mountainous debt and narrow the budget deficit.
While the fiscal numbers have been improving, and Greece's economy seems poised to return to growth this year after a six-year recession, the financial crisis has taken a massive social toll on the country. The economy has contracted by a quarter, and unemployment has spiraled to 28 percent.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the improving figures and the primary surplus -- which excludes interest payments on outstanding debt -- are proof Greece was 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 a meeting with Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, who was on a visit.
"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."