Strikes par­a­lyze Greece

Greeks clash as thou­sands protest aus­ter­ity

The Daily Observer - - WORLD NEWS - ELENA BECATOROS and DEREK GATOPOULOS

ATHENS, Greece — An an­ti­aus­ter­ity rally in Greece’s cap­i­tal turned vi­o­lent Wed­nes­day as a gen­eral strike halted flights, fer­ries and pub­lic trans­porta­tion, and thou­sands joined protest marches across the coun­try.

A small group of protesters threw gaso­line bombs and fired flares at riot po­lice af­ter the marches ended in Athens. Po­lice re­sponded with tear gas. The clashes broke out af­ter peace­ful marches in­volv­ing around 12,000 peo­ple.

In a sep­a­rate even­ing protest, more than 3,000 po­lice, fire­fight­ers and coast guards an­gry at im­pend­ing pay cuts gath­ered out­side par­lia­ment chant­ing slo­gans. A small num­ber tried to force their way past po­lice guards into the build­ing and were re­pulsed.

The protests oc­curred as law­mak­ers were set to ap­prove an­other batch of re­forms that will im­pose years more hard­ship on aus­ter­i­ty­weary Greeks.

The new belt-tight­en­ing mea­sures that will be im­posed be­yond the end of Greece’s third bailout next year, in­clud­ing pen­sion cuts and tax hikes. The left-led coali­tion gov­ern­ment agreed to the cuts as part of a deal with the coun­try ’s in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors to re­lease funds from its bailout.

Thou­sands of protesters were march­ing through cen­tral Athens to­ward par­lia­ment in a se­ries of demon­stra­tions as part of the strike.

“No to the new loot­ing of salaries and pen­sions,” civil ser­vants union ADEDY said.

Po­lice union­ists hung a gi­ant ban­ner off the side of Ly­ca­bet­tus Hill in the cen­tre of Athens, with a slo­gan in Ger­man and Greek read­ing “how much is the life of a Greek po­lice­man worth?”

Pub­lic hos­pi­tals were func­tion­ing with emer­gency staff only, while pub­lic trans­port was dis­rupted, leav­ing many main roads grid­locked in the cap­i­tal. In­ter­city trains were not run­ning, and there was no sub­way ser­vice be­tween Athens air­port and the city. Courts were shut while lawyers and no­taries pub­lic backed away from of­fi­cial du­ties, and cus­toms and lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fices were closed.

Air traf­fic con­trollers were hold­ing a four-hour work stop­page in the mid­dle of the day, lead­ing to the reschedul­ing or can­cel­la­tion of more than 150 flights. Fer­ries were also tied up in port un­til late Fri­day af­ter sea­men be­gan a four­day strike Tues­day.

Un­less bailout funds are un­locked, Greece would once more strug­gle to meet a spike in debt re­pay­ments due this sum­mer and face an­other brush with bank­ruptcy.

In par­lia­ment, law­mak­ers were de­bat­ing the mea­sures that in­clude ad­di­tional pen­sion cuts in 2019 and higher in­come tax from 2020, ahead of a Thursday mid­night vote.

On the streets of Athens, opinions on the strike di­verged.

“It doesn’t make a dif­fer­ence whether you strike or not. All the mea­sures will pass any­way,” said Apos­to­los Sei­tani­dis as he walked in the city cen­tre.

But an­other Athe­nian, Pana­gi­o­tis Adamopou­los, dis­agreed.

“Ev­ery strike is a holy thing,” he said. “If we dis­miss it, surely we’ll end up get­ting 300-euro ($456) salaries and 200-euro pen­sions.”

Unions and the op­po­si­tion have com­pared the new mea­sures to those of a fourth bailout, but with­out the cor­re­spond­ing fund­ing from in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors. The gov­ern­ment, which came to power in 2015 promis­ing to re­peal pre­vi­ous aus­ter­ity mea­sures, has ve­he­mently re­jected the ac­cu­sa­tion, em­pha­siz­ing that it will also take other mea­sures to re­lieve poverty.

Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras spoke Tues­day morn­ing with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, whose coun­try has been the sin­gle largest con­trib­u­tor to the Greek bailouts, and dis­cussed the is­sue of Greece’s debt, his of­fice said Wed­nes­day.

While the coun­try’s fi­nances have im­proved un­der the bailouts, the belt-tight­en­ing has led to spi­ral­ing poverty. Un­em­ploy­ment, while down from highs of above 27 per cent, hov­ers at around 23 per cent.

THANASSIS STAVRAKIS/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Greek po­lice of­fi­cers with flares chant slo­gans out­side the State Gen­eral Ac­count­ing Of­fice, dur­ing an anti-aus­ter­ity protest in Athens, Wed­nes­day. Greek work­ers have walked off the job across the coun­try for a na­tion­wide gen­eral strike to protest new aus­ter­ity mea­sures to be im­posed be­yond the end of Greece’s third bailout next year.

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