Greek police fired teargas and briefly clashed with protesters outside parliament on Thursday during demonstrations against plans to let foreign private universities operate in the country.

Thousands of students and other demonstrators marched largely peacefully through central Athens in the early afternoon, some of them holding banners reading: “No to the privatisation of public education!”.

When most had passed parliament, a group carrying red flags on wooden polls broke away and clashed with officers. A police official said the officers came under attack and responded with teargas.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has drafted an education reform bill to open the door to establishments that it says will operate as branches of foreign universities.

Critics say the move will devalue degrees from Greece’s public universities and reduce state funding for public education further.

Parliament is due to vote on the bill this month.