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Riot police
Protesters hurled petrol bombs at riot policeImage: AP

Greek standstill

December 15, 2010

Demonstrations in Greece have turned violent, with protesters clashing with riot police in the capital, Athens. Greek public sector workers are on a 24-hour strike to protest against government austerity measures.

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A public sector strike in Greece was marred by violence on Wednesday with angry protesters throwing rocks, bottles and firebombs at riot police who retaliated with tear gas. The clashes occurred near the country's finance ministry, where demonstrators had hurled a fire bomb into the second floor of the building setting part of it on fire.

The protests were part of a 24-hour public sector strike directed against a series of austerity measures. The cuts are being implemented by the Greek government to rein in the spending as part of a bailout for the debt-stricken country, financed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Many public sector workers would see their salaries cut and pension benefits reduced if the full force of the budget measures is implemented.

Traffic jam in Athens
The strikes caused traffic backups in AthensImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The strike has severely impacted transportation networks. Flights in and out of the country have been grounded, ships remain anchored in Greek harbors, and train lines are not running. Public transportation strikes in Athens throughout the week have also led to heavy traffic problems.

In addition, hospitals are running on skeleton crews, schools are closed and bank workers have not been on the job since Tuesday.

Year of strikes

Wednesday's strikes aren't the first to take place in Greece against the government's budget reduction plans. Widespread strikes have taken place throughout the year as Greece's debt situation has continued to worsen.

Despite public opposition to the budget cuts, there is little reason to believe the Greek government will be deterred in their resolve to pass the austerity measures.

The Socialist government of Prime Minister George Papandreou has a majority in parliament, and the reforms are tied to the 110-billion-euro ($147 billion) bailout from the EU and the IMF.

EU summit

Greece isn't the only European nation to have protests against government austerity measures on Wednesday - public sector workers in Spain, Belgium and other countries are set to rally as well.

George Papandreou
Papandreou is not likely to change his government's plansImage: AP

"European trade unions ask the governments to stop attacking wages and welfare, to act together, to stop racing from one crisis to the next, to stop destroying our social Europe," said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation ahead of the protests.

The strikes and protests come ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to discuss expanding the eurozone's financial rescue fund for possible future cases of extreme debt similar to that experienced by Greece.

So far, Ireland has been the only nation to access the fund, but speculation that Spain and Portugal will soon follow has raised the question whether the 750-billion-euro bailout fund will be sufficient.

Author: Matt Zuvela (Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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