Tuesday

2nd Jun 2020

May Day protests turn violent as Greeks turn ire on EU, IMF

  • Riot police clashed with protesters (Photo: endiaferon)

Traditional May Day marches turned violent in Greece as workers and youth vented their fury at austerity measures intended to deal with the country's ongoing debt crisis.

Tens of thousands took the streets to protest the harsh prescription of public sector cutbacks, wage reductions, pension entitlements and tax increases cooked up by the governing centre-left Pasok at the behest of Brussels, Berlin and the International Monetary Fund.

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Youthful demonstrators in Athens did not take long to clash with riot police, with dozens of black-clad individuals hurling stones and Molotov cocktails.

Several officers were set ablaze by the firebombs. Seven were injured as well as two demonstrators. Anarchists smashed a small number of shop and hotel windows while a public television van was torched.

Protestors heckled and threw water bottles at a 73-year-old Pasok politician, Apostolos Kaklamanis, before he was bundled off by the police.

Riot police responded with tear gas and had made nine arrests by the end of the day.

In Thessaloniki, protesters also fought with police and attacked shop windows and bank machines.

In Greece as in most other countries around the world, 1 May, workers' day, is a day for often highly scripted protests as well as festivals and concerts funded by left-wing parties and trade unions.

In the Hellenic Republic, while much of the rest of the demonstrations passed largely peacefully, there was a bitter anger focussed squarely at the EU and the IMF, coming ahead of another general strike on 5 May.

Trade unions marched to the offices of the EU representation in the country and then on to the US embassy.

Protesters chanted and daubed on walls such slogans as "IMF and EU Commission out!" and "No to the EU-IMF junta!" - in reference to the military dictatorship that ruled Greece until 1974, backed by the US, the UK and the Federal Republic of Germany.

Investors and European leaders are closely watching how Greek citizens react to the austerity measures. Extended violent protests, as occurred in Athens in December 2008 after a youth was shot and killed by police, could make it difficult for the government to push through its cuts.

Early on in the crisis, politicians feared a social explosion, with French President Nicholas Sarkozy even withdrawing two pieces of controversial legislation in the same month as the Athens riots, fearing, he said at the time, "another May 1968".

However, so far industrial action and civil unrest across the bloc has been muted.

Even in Greece, support for the governing Pasok has not really been dented.

Despite the violence on Saturday, the protests were not particularly large, with a police-estimated 17,000 in the capital and 5,000 in Thessaloniki.

Nevertheless, the euro took a slight dive on Friday after a Greek television poll showed that 60.9 percent were opposed to the EU-IMF deal and 67.4 thought that civil unrest was likely as a result.

Separately on Saturday, riot police in the German city of Hamburg broke up a march of a round a thousand young people mounted in solidarity with Greek demonstrators after the protesters attacked police units with bottles and fireworks.

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