Friday, September 28, 2012

Greece joins Spain and Portugal in protesting austerity measures

Liz Alderman
Niki Kisantonis

Up in flames ... burning firebombs form a backdrop to a
riot officer during a demonstration in Athens on Wednesday.

After a period of relative calm, European markets shuddered once again as protests erupted across Greece and demonstrators surrounded the Spanish parliament for a second day to protest against the austerity program of the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy.

Greek riot police clashed with hundreds of hooded youths hurling petrol bombs on Wednesday, as tens of thousands of striking workers rallied against a latest round of austerity measures in Athens.

On Tuesday in Spain tens of thousands of demonstrators besieged the parliament over the austerity measures. Last week more than half a million people marched in cities across Portugal to protest against an increase in social security contributions, and a million marched in Barcelona calling for Catalan independence.

The Greek clashes took place after more than 50,000 people marched to parliament demanding the government ignore the latest demands of the country's creditors for additional cuts to salaries, pensions and benefits. Riot police fired tear-gas and pepper spray against demonstrators who used marble stones and bottles as weapons and set fire to garbage bins and portable kiosks in central Syntagma Square.

One group could be seen setting fire to trees in the National Gardens, causing flames and black smoke to fill the skies above the parliament.

The nationwide strike, called by the country's two biggest private and public sector unions, is the first such action since the country's conservative-led coalition government was formed in June.

The 24-hour walkout affected schools, pharmacists, customs workers, ports and government offices. Museums and major archaeological sites turned tourists away. Shops were closed and ferry services suspended. More than a dozen domestic and international flights were cancelled or rescheduled after air traffic controllers called a three-hour stoppage. Petrol stations remained shut for most of the day and hospitals operated on emergency staff as doctors joined the strike.
Among the strikers was Babis Vasiliadis, a hotel chef who was recently left unemployed. He said: ''This is not just about having a decent job and making enough money to feed your family - it is about the right of every citizen to live a decent life.''

Marching nearby, 58-year-old pensioner Stavroula Zervea, said she no longer can survive after her pension was slashed by more than a third. ''I suspect it will only get worse - but the question is how much more tax hikes can the Greek people handle?'' she said.

Hours before demonstrators hit the streets, the Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, and his Finance Minister, Yannis Stournaras, reportedly hammered out a deal on the $15 billion package of spending cuts, along with a further $2.6 billion in taxes, demanded by the country's international lenders, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The bulk of the cuts will affect wages, pensions and welfare benefits, putting renewed pressure on the country, which is in the fifth year of recession and has seen unemployment soar to more than 24 per cent.

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