Thousands of striking Greek workers have marched through the streets of Athens against planned pension reforms and other austerity measures. The second general strike in weeks has disrupted transport, courts and schools.
Both public and private sector workers in Greece stopped work on Thursday in the country's second 24-hour strike in less than a month. Around 15,000 protestors marched in Athens against a planned social security overhaul, which includes cutting state-guaranteed pensions in half and raising pension contributions.
"It's unfair," said jeweler Panayiotis Titos. "When there's a crisis and you raise contributions, it's very difficult for businesses because the turnover is not high and the profit is not enough."
The anti-austerity protests held near parliament buildings at the main Syntagma Square were largely peaceful until police fired tear gas at protestors throwing rocks and petrol bombs.
A group of 30 youths split off and threw Molotov cocktails outside buildings along the demonstration route, causing minimal damage and no injuries. The incident was over within minutes and there was no further violence, according to police.
The strike paralyzed public services like trains and ferries to Greek islands, leaving hospitals to run on emergency staff. Lawyers in Athens joined the strike as well, leading to canceled trials. Journalists participated in a solidarity strike on Wednesday.
Greece's two largest unions, which represent around 2.5 million workers, led the strike as a way of testing the resolve of the country's leftist government, which has decided to implement highly unpopular austerity measures despite rising resistance.
'Nothing to be done'
Although many participated in Thursday's strike, the turnout was less than expected.
"I cannot accept this but there's nothing to be done," said Eleftherios Orimazoglou, a pensioner, echoed the resignation expressed by many other demonstrators. "Everything has been decided ... Even if we go out in the streets, if we resist, nothing will change."
On November 12, Greek workers held a similar strike to protest the EU bailout and additional tax hikes. Over 20,000 people attended the protests in Athens that time, with more reports of violence between police and youths who vandalized public property.
The government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has pushed forward with reforms required by the country's foreign creditors in July as part of the latest bailout. The parliamentary majority of Tsipras' government is only three seats. Despite this, Tsipras dismissed suggestions that his government was on shaky ground.
"Dogs howl but the caravan goes on," Tsipras told lawmakers earlier this week. "We will endure and achieve our targets. The people will judge us at the end of our term...in the autumn of 2019," the Prime Minister said.
The austerity measures and pension reforms, which are part of Greece's third bailout worth around 86 billion euros ($91.05 billion), seek to make Greece's costly and fragmented pension system more viable.
In order to secure funds promised by European lenders, the Greek government has already raised the retirement age, increased healthcare contributions and scrapped most early retirement benefits.
rs/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)