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'Mother of all strikes'

October 19, 2011

Greece's unions have launched a general strike as parliament approves fresh austerity measures. Public services, flights, shops and schools have all been affected, as lawmakers sign off on a first reading of the cuts.

Protesters face off against riot police
Protesters have clashed with riot policeImage: picture-alliance/dpa

In the midst of a massive demonstration that coincides with a general strike in Greece, protesters clashed with police in front of the Greek parliament building in Athens on Wednesday.

Witnesses reported seeing stones, Molotov cocktails, and eggs hurled at riot police, while police responded by launching tear gas canisters into the crowd.

There have also been reports of police being bombarded by firebombs in Thessaloniki.

The demonstrations were arranged to coincide with a parliamentary debate and vote on further austerity measures. The Greek parliament passed the measures by a vote of 154 to 141 on Wednesday evening. A final vote on the measures is expected to take place on Thursday, with more public opposition expected.

Despite some incidents of violence on Wednesday, the protests in Greece have remained mostly peaceful, with reports indicating that at least 70,000 people gathered in Athens alone.

The protests are part of a major 48-hour strike led by Greek unions. One newspaper has called it the "mother of all strikes." The two-day action follows smaller strikes, primarily in the public sector, on Monday and Tuesday.

Nationwide shutdown

Media workers protest in central Athens on Tuesday
Smaller protests have been building up to a general strikeImage: dapd

Government departments, businesses, schools, shops and bakeries have been closed. The general strike has also grounded flights and shut down public transport and most public services.

The Greek government maintains parliament must pass the measures which include deep cuts, tax hikes and the end of the constitutional taboo against laying off civil servants before European Union leaders meet on Sunday to discuss a new financial aid package.

Prime Minister George Papandreou made a final appeal for support on Tuesday evening, telling deputies in his PASOK party that it was their duty to support the new measures. He compared the ongoing crisis to a war facing the Greek people.

"We must persevere in this war as people, as a government, as a parliamentary group in order for the country to win it," he said. "We will win for the country; we will persevere. That is why I am here."

Running out of cash

A series of smaller actions over the last several days have given Greeks a preview of the general strike, with the Finance Ministry occupied, tourist sites closed and trash piling up in Athens. After more than two weeks without garbage collection, the government used emergency powers on Tuesday to force garbage crews to get back to work.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou
Papandreou says he won't let the protests get in the way of his efforts to save GreeceImage: dapd

"I would like to ask all those who occupy ministry buildings, choke the streets with garbage, close off ports, close off the Acropolis, if this helps us stand on our feet again," Papandreou told parliament. "Of course it does not."

The Greek government has said it will run out of cash by mid-November if it does not secure the next bailout loan installment from its international creditors at the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos tempered expectations, however, of reaching a definitive deal on a second rescue package at Sunday's EU summit.

"We will seek what is best for the country and the eurozone," he said. "Everyone understands that if Greece is saved, the eurozone will be saved too. And the reverse is also true: If the Europeans fail on Greece, they will not be able to safeguard themselves."

Author: Holly Fox, Matt Zuvela (AP, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Mark Hallam

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