28th Feb 2024

Greek strike turns violent ahead of new austerity vote

  • Trying to hold the line: Greek riot police. (Photo: mkhalili)

A second day of street clashes and economic standstill is expected on Thursday (20 October) as the Greek parliament votes on fresh spending cuts demanded by the EU and IMF to release another tranche of money.

Protests on Wednesday saw record participation in Athens, with at least 100,000 people taking to the streets and clashing violently with police.

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The General Confederation of Greek Labour describing it as one of the biggest demonstrations since Greece restored democracy, in 1974. Airports were shut, schools closed, small shops and petrol stations shut their doors, while taxi drivers are continuing their strike against an attempt by the government to make their trade more flexible and open to competition.

Riot police with tear gas and rubber batons tackled the protesters, who threw petrol bombs and rocks. Mountains of rubbish, which remains uncollected since the beginning of the month, were set alight while public property was looted.

"We just can't take it any more. There is desperation, anger and bitterness," Athens area union official Nikos Anastasopoulos told Associated Press news agency.

The protests are aimed against a bill likely to be passed Thursday by the parliament, which foresees slashing public sector pay and pensions by 25 percent, along with tax hikes, a suspension of collective wage bargaining in the private sector, and the laying off of thousands of civil servants.

Parliament late Wednesday evening already adopted the first reading of the bill, with 154 lawmakers in favour, 141 against and five deputies absent.

But AFP reports that several government deputies have threatened to reject an article on wage amendments in Thursday's follow-up vote.

The measures are required by the EU and IMF in return for the release of the next tranche of its international loan and to convince EU leaders meeting on Sunday that Greece is living up to its austerity promises.

"We have to explain to all these indignant people who see their lives changing that what the country is experiencing is not the worst stage of the crisis," finance minister Evangelos Venizelos said. "It is an anguished and necessary effort to avoid the ultimate, deepest and harshest level of the crisis," he added.

Some observers point to the fact that other EU countries outside the eurozone had to stomach similarly harsh measures and have since returned to economic growth.

Romania, which had to fight a severe recession following the 2009 crisis, was also put on an EU-IMF lifeline and had to slash public salaries by 25 percent, increase taxes and cut jobs.

"Why should Romania be judged easily, with a harsh austerity programme agreed with the IMF and EU and a eurozone country differently? It doesn't work, and it took them two years to realise it," Romanian centre-right MEP Theodor Stolojan, a former prime minister, told this website.

He also blamed EU creditors for allowing Greek foreign debt to go over 150 percent. "It took Europe two years to realise it can't sustain Greece by increasing its debt. Once they saw debt was over 100 percent, creditors should have asked themselves some questions. They didn't, so they have to accept a part of the loss now. And this kind of reasoning will prevail for each country that has excessive debt in the EU, be it in or outside the eurozone."

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