Clashes in Athens as workers strike

Riot police scuffle with protesters in Athens as striking public sector workers march against new austerity measures.

At least 16,000 anti-austerity protesters have converged in central Athens, chanting slogans, banging drums and blowing whistles in a display of opposition to the Greek government’s latest austerity measures.

The vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful, but a few dozen protesters clashed with riot police on Wednesday.

Youth broke up marble paving slabs and hurled the chunks of rock at police in full riot gear while others who were masked threw stones, sticks, petrol bombs and other projectiles at the police lines. The police responded by firing tear gas grenades, chasing the protesters and dragging some of them away.

The march was organised by union members and workers from the public sector, which staged a 24-hour general strike over government plans that would see 30,000 civil servants put in a ‘labour reserve’ programme, which effectively means they will lose their jobs within months.

Schools, government offices, museums and archaeological sites were all closed on Wednesday, while hospitals were operating with reduced staff numbers.

“One in five people are employed in the Greek public sector, so these strikes comes at an enormous cost, which Greece can’t afford in the current climate,” Al Jazeera’s Jonah Hull, reporting from Athens, said.

“Ongoing strikes are becoming the norm, and if the Greek public believe the bailouts will work, then they wouldn’t come out on the streets and strike. The Greek public are against more austerity and taxes.”

Bulging deficit

The labour reserve plan, accompanied by layoffs at scores of state entities, is designed to ease the state payroll struggles to balance its bulging deficit.

But many Greeks believe they are being made to suffer as a consequence of financial mismanagement for which they bear no responsibility.

“Deep inside I believe we’ve already gone bankrupt, but we must keep fighting,” 52-year-old Niki Xydous, who has two unemployed sons and a husband who risks losing his state job, told Reuters.

“I want the government to step down, but what’s the point of having elections now? Nothing will change.”

Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek finance minister, said on Tuesday that the government had enough cash to pay pensions, salaries and bondholders until mid-November.

Greece had previously said it needed more money by mid-October to avoid a default.

The additional austerity cuts are mandated by Greece’s international creditors, the EU, IMF and European Central Bank, under an economic recovery programme launched last year in return for a $149bn loan.

The crisis has sent stock markets tumbling, with European banks under extreme pressure over their possible exposure to a Greek default on government debt.

The Athens stock exchange plunged to an 18-year low on Tuesday after EU officials postponed a Greek debt bailout.

The EU delayed the release of loan funds, demanding Athens make more sacrifices and warning banks may have to shoulder more losses as part of the resolution of the debt crisis.

Germany called on its EU partners on Wednesday to recapitalise the banking sector to help prevent the eurozone debt crisis spreading as the IMF warned the European Union to get its act together.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said helping the banks was “justified, if we have a joint approach”, giving nervous financial markets an immediate boost after days of heavy losses on fears the banking sector needs help urgently.

She was speaking on a visit to EU headquarters after France and Belgium agreed to bail out Dexia, the first European bank to be dragged down by the eurozone debt crisis – and which also had to be rescued in 2008.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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