A 24-hour general strike is underway in Greece by workers angry over austerity measures being implemented by the government so the country can guarantee international bailout money.
An estimated 50,000 people took part in a march in central Athens Wednesday to protest against the government plan. The march came on the same day as a massive general strike that was called by labor unions. Schools and shops were closed, public transportation and flight schedules were interrupted, and many services were unavailable.
In Athens, police used tear gas and pepper spray against several dozen protesters who had pelted law enforcement officials with stones and petrol bombs.
Greece has been told by international lenders, which include the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank, that it needs to implement spending cuts worth 11.5 billion euros ($15 billion) over the next two years. If the cuts aren't made, Greece runs the risk of missing the next instalment of its bailout package and defaulting on its debt.
During the protest march, particpants chanted "we won't submit to the troika!" referring to the three international lenders, and "EU, IMF, out!" as they marched.
The Reuters news agency quoted Dina Kokou, a 54-year-old mother of four who works as a teacher, as saying, "we can't take it anymore - we are bleeding. We can't raise our children like this. These tax hikes and wage cuts are killing us."
The strikes are the third to take place this year on this scale, and the first since Greece's coalition government under Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was formed in June. The planned austerity measures have been in the works since then, and auditors from the troika have been reviewing Greece's plan to see if it meets the conditions of the bailout. The troika is expected to issue a report on Greece's budget cuts in early October.
There are fears that even if the cuts are finalized, Greece will still come up short of its debt reduction targets.
mz/jlw (Reuters, AFP, dpa)