Warnings from the International Monetary Fund and the US Federal Reserve send world markets sharply down.
Greece has been hit by a 24-hour public transport strike, with protests intensifying against the new wave of austerity cuts announced by the government.
The people of Athens were struggling through streets clogged with cars on Thursday as the metro, trams, trains, buses and taxis all stopped work.
Flights will be delayed or cancelled by a three-to-four hour walk-out by air traffic controllers in the afternoon, together with a proposed walkout by teachers and civil servants.
The socialist government announced pension and tax-break cuts and put 30,000 state employees on temporary layoffs after pledging to do “anything” to stay in the eurozone and utilise bankruptcy-saving EU-IMF loans.
The government says this must be done to receive the vital 8bn-euro tranche of aid as part of $150bn package of loans established by eurozone countries and the IMF to help Greece pay its huge debts.
The austerity cuts are an attempt to secure the continued backing of international creditors and prevent a default on debt payment and a way to unlock bankruptcy-saving EU-IMF loans.
“A merciless raid,” commented the conservative Eleftheros Typos newspaper, while pro-government Ta Nea noted that staff with salaries, pensioners and civil servants had been placed on a “sacrificial altar”.
Obliged to resist
The head of the Athens’ Subway employees union, Antonis Stamatopoulos told state television, NET:”We are obliged to resist, not even Greece’s German and Turkish conquerors imposed such taxes.”
Greece has been struggling to convince the EU and the IMF that it can bring its tough economic overhaul programme back onto track despite delays and targets slipping due to a deeper-than-expected recession.
The government announced on Wednesday cuts to pensions above $1,650 per month. A threshold will be cut by 20 per cent and those retiring below the age of 55 will see a 40 per cent cut in pensions over a $1,400 threshold.
The number of civil servants suspended on partial pay will rise by 50 per cent to 30,000 by the end of the year, and a reduction to revenue exemption on annual taxes to 5,000 euros, from 12,000 euros currently.
The government has also faced criticism from the business sector as well as workers.
“Greece is being turned into a poverty house, new measures are being announced by the day and by the week,” Constantinos Michalos, head of the Athens chamber of commerce and industry, told state television NET.
“There is no compass, this government doesn’t know where it’s going,” said Michalos.
After a six-hour cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Elias Mossialos, the Greek government’s spokesman, said of the latest measures: “This sends a message to our partners and to the markets that Greece both wishes and is able to fulfil its commitments and remain at the core of the eurozone and the EU.”
EU and IMF auditors have agreed to resume a review of Greek finances needed to unlock eight billion euros in rescue funding.
The audit had been suspended in early September, with sources citing lack of progress with reforms, placing in jeopardy the release of funds needed to prevent Athens running out of cash next month.
The additional cuts, on top of a controversial property tax that could be extended to 2014, have raised dissent in the ruling party, with backbenchers and former ministers doubting their effectiveness after two years of recession.
The main private sector union, GSEE, and the Adedy syndicate representing civil servants have also called for strikes next month against the austerity measures.
The public sector will shut down on October 5, and a general strike will be held on October 19.