Thou­sands demon­strate in Greece over budget cuts

‘Liv­ing stan­dards wors­en­ing daily’

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

ATHENS:

Thou­sands of Greek trade union­ists demon­strated on Thurs­day against planned new cuts de­manded by in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors in a gen­eral strike that shut down sev­eral key sec­tors. Ac­cord­ing to po­lice, some 15,000 peo­ple took part in sep­a­rate union protests in Athens and an­other 5,000 in Thes­sa­loniki. Civil ser­vants, bank staff, merchant sea­men, rail­way work­ers and state-em­ployed doc­tors were among pro­fes­sion­als tak­ing part in the 24 -hour stop­page against the mea­sures, which are sched­uled to be ap­proved by law­mak­ers at the week­end.

The coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors fel­low EU states and the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund - want Greece to over­haul its labour leg­is­la­tion to make crip­pling strikes less likely while also fa­cil­i­tat­ing lay­offs. Of­fi­cial data on Thurs­day showed per­sis­tently high un­em­ploy­ment figures at 23.1 per­cent in Septem­ber, with an in­crease of some 60,500 jobs com­pared to a year ear­lier. Unions say hid­den un­em­ploy­ment is far higher. A new budget con­tain­ing around one bil­lion eu­ros ($1.07 bil­lion) from ex­tra tax­a­tion on items in­clud­ing cars, fixed tele­phone ser­vice, pay TV, fuel, to­bacco, cof­fee and beer is to be ap­proved by par­lia­ment early to­day. Pub­lic spend­ing on salaries and pen­sions will also be cut by 5.7 bil­lion next year.

Unions are also an­gry about plans to raise over €2.0 bil­lion next year from pri­va­ti­za­tions, in­clud­ing 1.2 bil­lion eu­ros from the sale of re­gional air­ports. “These (aus­ter­ity) poli­cies worsen our liv­ing stan­dards ev­ery day,” said Evi, a Com­mu­nist union­ist who de­clined to give her sur­name. Seek­ing to sweeten the pill, Prime Min­is­ter Alexis Tsipras an­nounced late Thurs­day new mea­sures to help pen­sion­ers and the Greek is­lands in the front­line of Europe’s mi­grant in­flux.

In a tele­vised mes­sage, Tsipras an­nounced the re­in­state­ment of a 13thmonth an­nual pay­ment on the low­est re­tire­ment pen­sions, a benefit which had pre­vi­ously been re­moved as part of aus­ter­ity mea­sures. The gov­ern­ment will also post­pone the planned sales tax rise for the east Aegean is­lands, which cur­rently hold more than 16,000 mi­grants and refugees, the prime min­is­ter added. “The time has come for Europe to recog­nise that Greece is car­ry­ing a load for the whole of Europe, both with the refugee cri­sis and the eco­nomic cri­sis,” Tsipras said.

He stressed that the new mea­sures would not breach a third ma­jor loan deal reached with the coun­try’s EU and IMF cred­i­tors in 2013, as this year’s pri­mary budget - not in­clud­ing debt re­pay­ments had bet­tered the fis­cal goals. Al­ready huge, Greece’s debt af­ter the three con­sec­u­tive bailouts is on course to reach a mam­moth €315 bil­lion, or around 180 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic out­put this year, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est EU data. Greece on Tues­day re­jected pres­sure to ex­tend its painful aus­ter­ity pro­gram be­yond 2018 as part of a deal to bridge dif­fer­ences be­tween the squab­bling in­ter­na­tional cred­i­tors. — AFP

ATHENS: Hundreds of peo­ple gather be­fore tak­ing part in a protest march mark­ing a 24-hour gen­eral strike on Thurs­day. — AFP

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