Greek police pepper spray protesting pensioners

Athens (AFP) - Greek police on Monday fired pepper spray at pensioners protesting against cuts in their state income.

Thousands of pensioners responded to a protest call by the communist opposition and tensions boiled over as their protest march approached the prime minister's residence.

One group of protesters attempted to breach the cordon of riot police guarding the building, while others attempted to overturn a police car, according to an AFP correspondent.

Police responded with a limited amount of pepper spray, but protesters returned before being dispersed.

Reacting swiftly, Nikos Toska, minister for citizens' protection, took responsibility for the use of the gas irritant and announced a ban on "all use of tear gas on protests by pensioners and workers".

The leftist Syriza party of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, when it was in opposition, regularly decried the use of tear gas on protesters.

Its use was widespread during anti-austerity protests at the beginning of the decade, to the point of affecting whole neighbourhoods of the Greek capital.

The elderly protesters on Monday shouted slogans such as "We can't live on 400 euros ($450)" and "Let the rich pay for the crisis".

The demonstrators have been angered by 15 successive cuts in their pension payments, most recently in April, as part of a massive reform of the retirement system demanded by the country's EU and IMF creditors.

The overall effect has been cuts of 25-55 percent to pensions, according to Ika, the largest social security organisation in Greece.

Six out of 10 Greek retirees receive pensions of less than 700 euros per month, a pensioners group said last week, money which in some cases whole families depend on.