Athens hit by ri­ots

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - WORLD -

Ri­ot­ers hurled petrol bombs at po­lice who re­sponded with tear gas as an anti-aus­ter­ity demon­stra­tion out­side par­lia­ment turned vi­o­lent Wed­nes­day, while Greek law­mak­ers be­gan de­bat­ing con­tentious mea­sures needed to start ne­go­ti­a­tions on a new bailout and avoid fi­nan­cial col­lapse.

Groups of youths among the more than 12,000 protesters smashed store­fronts and set at least one ve­hi­cle alight.

The clashes were the first sig­nif­i­cant protest vi­o­lence since the left-wing Syriza gov­ern­ment came to power in Jan­uary promis­ing to re­peal bailout aus­ter­ity. Po­lice said at least 50 peo­ple were de­tained. The protest was timed to co­in­cide with the start of de­bate on the bill, which in­cludes con­sumer tax in­creases and pen­sion re­forms that will con­demn Greeks to years of more eco­nomic hard­ship.

The bill has fu­eled anger among the gov­ern­ing left-wing Syriza party and led to a re­volt by many party mem­bers against Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras, who has in­sisted the deal forged early Mon­day af­ter a marathon week­end eu­ro­zone sum­mit was the best he could do to pre­vent Greece from crash­ing out of Europe’s joint cur­rency.

“I must tell you, that Mon­day morn­ing at 9:30, it was the most dif­fi­cult day of my life. It was a de­ci­sion that will weigh on me for the rest of my life,” said Fi­nance Min­is­ter Eu­clid Tsakalo­tos.

“I don’t know if we did the right thing. But I know we did some­thing with the sense that we had no choice. Noth­ing was cer­tain and noth­ing is,” he said as the de­bate kicked off.

Civil ser­vants protested with a 24-hour strike that dis­rupted public trans­port and shut down state-run ser­vices across the coun­try. Large num­bers of Syriza law­mak­ers are al­most cer­tain to vote against the pack­age, though the bill is ex­pected to pass with sup­port from pro-Euro­pean op­po­si­tion par­ties. Al­ter­nate Fi­nance Min­is­ter Na­dia Vala­vani re­signed from her post, say­ing she could not vote in favour of the bill.

In a let­ter she sent to Tsipras on Mon­day and re­leased by the fi­nance min­istry Wed­nes­day, Vala­vani said she be­lieved “dom­i­nant cir­cles in Ger­many” were in­tent on “the full hu­mil­i­a­tion of the gov­ern­ment and the coun­try.”

The econ­omy min­istry’s sec­re­tary gen­eral, Manos Manousakis, also re­signed over the agree­ment.

Tsipras agreed to a deal af­ter a marathon 17-hour eu­ro­zone sum­mit that ended Mon­day morn­ing. It calls for Greece to pass new aus­ter­ity mea­sures his left-wing gov­ern­ment had long bat­tled against in re­turn for the start of ne­go­ti­a­tions on a third bailout worth about 85 bil­lion eu­ros ($93 bil­lion) in loans over three years. The gov­ern­ment, a coali­tion be­tween Syriza and the small right-wing In­de­pen­dent Greeks, holds 162 seats in Greece’s 300-mem­ber par­lia­ment. More than 30 of Syriza’s own law­mak­ers have pub­licly voiced ob­jec­tions.

AP PHOTO

Riot po­lice­man tries to avoid a petrol bomb thrown by anti-aus­ter­ity protesters in Athens Wed­nes­day.

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