Riot police again confronted striking workers at the Acropolis today as a labour dispute for a third day kept thousands of visitors out of debt-ridden Greece's most famous monument seen as an enduring symbol of ancient democracy.
Site guards were due to strike until noon, but it was unclear whether the site would then open. Their action came on the heels of a two-day blockade by hundreds of Culture Ministry employees, who were forcibly evicted yesterday by police in riot gear using tear gas.
Dozens of protesting ministry workers gathered at the gates shortly after dawn, complaining they are owed up to two years' worth of back pay and face dismissal when their short-term contracts expire at the end of the month.
Riot police guarded the entrance to keep away protesters, as bemused tourists took long shots of the 2,500-year-old marble temples and of the face off.
Authorities have pledged to keep the site open, and accuse strikers of showing disrespect for the iconic monument, which attracted more than a million visitors last year. Greece is in the midst of a debt crisis, and tourism is a key source of revenue.
"Nobody has the right to hold our ancient monuments captive," Prime Minister George Papandreou said today. "Is this the image of our country we want to promote?"
Nikos Hasomeris, head of the contract workers' union, said protesters would "see what we will do" when the guards' strike ended. But union members said they would try to prevent visitors from entering.
A foreign visitor who tried to push past a picket line and riot police was met with shouts of "We are on strike, don't go in," from protesters, and police escorted her away.
Other tourists were more accepting.
"It's a great pity that the Acropolis is shut, we'll have to come again," said Yvonne Kruk from the Netherlands, who arrived on a cruise ship for a day visit today. "But we understand these people who are protesting."
Ted Kinnamon, from Santa Cruz, California, said the Greek government should settle the dispute by paying the workers.
"They're going to lose a lot more money from the bad publicity than they would by paying these guys," he said. His wife, Lorraine, agreed.
"We're very, very disappointed not to get in," she said. "We saved for a long time to travel to Greece, this is our last day here and we really wanted to visit the Acropolis, we tried yesterday too and were here when the police fired tear gas. We had to run down the hill."
"It looks as if we won't see the Acropolis," she said. "But we completely understand the workers."