Greeks march against pensions plan

Nationwide strike paralyses public services and transport systems.

    Riot police fought running battles with anarchists throwing stones and petrol bombs [EPA]
    More than 60 international and domestic flights by Olympic Airlines, the national carrier, were cancelled because of a four-hour stoppage by air traffic controllers.

    Greece's second largest carrier, Aegean, also said it would cancel 23 of its flights. Ferries were kept in port and nearly all inter-city rail services were shut down along with city buses, trams and trains.

    Banks, schools and courts, like during two other general strikes since December, were also closed.

    Salonika protest

    Around 8,000 people joined a similar demonstration in Salonika where a group of protesters caused minor damage at five bank branches.
    "We're marching for a socially just pension system"

    George Papandreou, Socialist opposition leader

    A number of Salonika shops also had their front windows pelted with rubbish that litters the city's streets due to a two-week strike by refuse collectors.

    "We're marching for a socially just pension system," George Papandreou, Socialist opposition leader and the former foreign minister, said as he marched through downtown Athens.

    He accused the government of eroding "the most basic of pension rights," particularly for women, while offering tax cuts for the rich and benefits for large corporations.

    The government says the changes are essential to save the retirement system from collapse, but both unions and white-collar guilds see a planned merger of funds as a threat to their pension rights.

    An opinion poll published on Wednesday found that 71 per cent of Greeks say they oppose the changes, with 76 per cent accusing the government of misleading them.

    Funds merger

    The government intends to merge 133 pension funds that cover more than 90 per cent of salaried employees into 13 new groups in a bid to cut operating costs.

    The new system also offers pension hikes to retiring workers who opt to stay in the workforce up to an extra three years.

    "The funds are built on workers' backs. We won't abandon them to plutocrats," shouted protesting workers in Athens, who denounced a round of dialogue the government had previously held with unions as a sham.

    The pensions bill is expected to pass a vote in parliament on Thursday, but the government's thin majority of 151 deputies in the 300-seat chamber has left the conservatives in a tight spot with a four-year term ahead of them.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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