Greek protests on austerity measures continue | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 05.03.2010
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Greek protests on austerity measures continue

For a second day, demonstrators in Athens protested the government's austerity measures to bring Greece back from the brink of bankruptcy. Greek Premier George Papandreou is in Berlin to seek support for the measures.

A crowd of protesters on a in front of the parliament building in Athens

About 3,000 communist-affiliated trade unionists protested Thursday evening in Athens

Clashes broke out in front of the Greek parliament on Friday and a labor leader was injured as protesters started a second day of demonstrations against cuts aimed at containing the debt crisis.

The president of the GSEE union, Giannis Panagopoulos was injured after demonstrators started attacking him with bottles and sticks, news agencies reported. He was transferred to a local hospital.

Riot police used tear gas to disperse the more than 3,000 union protesters during the clashes.

The protests, which continued from Thursday, came in response to Greece's latest round of austerity measures. Prime Minister Papandreou introduced a new multi-billion-euro bond in a bid to tackle his country's massive debt.

The country's two main labor unions, who together represent roughly half of Greece's workforce, have vowed to fight the cutbacks. A mass strike is planned for March 11.

In central Athens on Thursday, more than 300 communist-affiliated trade unionists occupied the entrance to the Ministry of Finance, protesting the latest measures and calling for an "uprising" in action.

In another protest, hundreds of employees of the former state-owned Olympic Airways continued to block a major road in the city, demanding compensation. More than 4,000 employees were laid off after Olympic was sold to Marfin Investment Group Holdings last year.

The austerity measures, the third set introduced in recent months, include increased sales, tobacco and alcohol taxes, a pension freeze and a 30 percent cut to public sector bonuses. The cuts are intended to sharply reduce the country's deficit and restore investor confidence in the economy, saving up to 4.8 billion euros ($6.5 billion).

The 10-year bond introduced Thursday is worth five billion euros, according to press reports.

Measures are "cruel"

But some said those measures would also disproportionately affect the poor and middle class. Members of the public expressed frustration.

"Why don't they open the secret bank accounts in Switzerland first?" an Athens shopkeeper, Markostamou Violetta, told Reuters. "When I see all those who took bribes punished, then I will pay whatever they want."

Stathis Anestis, a spokesman for the private sector union GSEE, said the cuts were "cruel, unjust and one-sided."

"The burden is not equally shared," Anestis told Reuters.

'Race against time'

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou

Prime Minister George Papandreou travels to Berlin on Friday

"These decisions are necessary for the survival of the country and the economy," said Papandreou on Thursday.

He warned of a "race against time" to raise money for maturing debt, saying if the EU did not help, he was ready to ask the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout, a move which could hurt the credibility of the euro currency. "Europe has a historic responsibility," Papandreou said.

The new austerity measures were cautiously welcomed by both the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB). French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde praised Athens for taking "solid and tangible" steps to get a grip on its debt crisis.

Some lawmakers in Germany still doubt Greece has done enough to get a handle on its debt, with some going so far as to suggest the country sell off some of its uninhabited islands to raise extra cash.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou travels to Berlin on Friday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday.

Editor: Susan Houlton

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