ATHENS, Greece (AP) - The setting was familiar: White banners daubed with red-and-black anti-austerity slogans, crowds shouting outside Parliament, fists clenched.
But as 20,000 Greeks marched Thursday in central Athens against government cutbacks, one key element of most Greek protests was lacking - violence.
Apart from one thrown petrol bomb and a smashed car, calm reigned at two separate protests in the capital during the first general strike under Greece's new technocratic coalition government.
Riots during strikes have almost become the norm in the country that kicked off Europe's massive debt crisis. Greece is crippled by debt, facing record unemployment and heading into a fourth year of recession. Most of its people are outraged over repeated pay and pension cuts and tax hikes.
Greece's fellow eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund demanded the austerity program in return for rescue loans that have shielded the country from bankruptcy since May 2010.
In the last general strike in October, more than 100 police and demonstrators were injured in two days of riots, 20 people were arrested and one man died of heart failure after protesters were tear-gassed
"You can't explain it rationally," police spokesman Athanassios Kokalakis said of Thursday's peaceful marches. "We would like to believe that everyone understands the extent of their social and historic responsibility during these hard times the country is going through."
Most of Thursday's protesters were Communist-linked unionists, who seldom seek violent confrontation with police. And a relatively small turnout at the other demonstration, held by the country's two biggest labor unions, left-wing parties and anarchists, would deter rioters who use large crowds to dodge police retribution.
But the simplest explanation may be that anarchists - often spoiling for a fight with police - were not in the mood for trouble, while riot control squads kept a low profile.
"Usually, street violence is used by some to lead others on," said Ilias Vrettakos, deputy leader of the main civil servants' ADEDY union.
Vrettakos also said Greeks have been cowed by arguments that the only alternative to austerity is bankruptcy, and suggested that workers who have suffered repeated pay cuts may be loath to lose another day's wages to go on strike.
"They are creating a situation that can no longer be tolerated, can no longer be endured. Unfortunately, people are in a state somewhere between poverty and despair," said ADEDY general secretary Ilias Iliopoulos.
Even more cutbacks lie in store.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has assured the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF he will conclude a massive new bailout deal for Greece and impose tough cost-cutting measures needed.
Backed by the country's main Socialist and conservative parties, Papademos now heads negotiations for the new debt deal in which Greece will get â‚¬130 billion ($174 billion) in more rescue loans and support for banks. The deal also includes a voluntary 50 percent write-down of debt held by private holders of Greek bonds.
On Tuesday, Greece finally won approval of a â‚¬8 billion ($10.7 billion) loan to help it stay solvent.
In return for the EU-IMF lifeline, new austerity measures impose job suspensions and pay cuts in the public sector and an emergency property tax that will leave households without power if they don't pay.
Iliopolous said Greeks are stressed beyond belief.
"The measures are supposed to improve the country's financial situation, but the country is getting deeper into debt, unemployment is rising, and the recession - unprecedented in recent times - is worse than anywhere else in Europe," he said. "People are falling apart."
Elena Becatoros, Derek Gatopoulos and Theodora Tongas in Athens, and Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed.
(Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)