One protester is dead as government pushes ahead with spending cuts, tax hikes.
By Andy Dabilis for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 19/10/12
A man holding a Greek flag walks through line of riot police during a 24-hour labour strike in Athens on Thursday. [Reuters]
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was in Brussels on Thursday (October 18th), making his case to EU leaders to keep bailouts coming for the country's cash-strapped economy, as 70,000 Greeks took to the streets of Athens to protest another pending round of austerity measures as a condition of the aid.
The demonstration was marred by clashes between riot police and squads of youths and hooded anarchists who battled in the downtown area of Syntagma Square. Protesters tossed Molotov cocktails, rocks and bottles, while police responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades. A 65-year-old died from an apparent heart attack on the fringes of the most intense fighting, authorities said.
The protests, and a general strike, were organised by the country's two largest labor unions representing public and private workers, and included a peaceful march by 17,000 people in Thessaloniki.
They were the third in the last month – protesters are upset that Samaras and his coalition partners are reneging on campaign promises to resist pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions demanded by the EU-IMF-ECB Troika in return for rescue loans.
The government, despite some reservations over the firing of public workers and reductions in severance pay, is close to agreeing with Troika envoys over a 13.5 billion euros spending cut and tax hike pan.
The Troika is withholding a 31.1-billion-euro loan that is the last in the first series of 109 billion euros, and is keeping a second bailout, for 130 billion euros, in limbo until the government makes more reforms.
"We're angry. We want people in other countries to see what's going on here," Venezia Benedekou, 45, told SETimes.
Samaras is trying to convince Greeks that this round of austerity will be the last, while showing the Troika he is putting the country on the path to recovery.
"There is no other choice right now," Antonis Klapsis, head of research for the Konstandinos Karamanlis Institute for Democracy, the think tank of Samaras' New Democracy Conservative party, told SETimes.
Samaras is still hoping the Troika will give him two more years, until 2016, to reduce the deficit from 9.3 to 3 percent, the eurozone ceiling, and implement reforms.
A recent poll showed 72 percent of Greeks are opposed to the bailouts because of the attached austerity measures. But nearly as many want Greece to stay in the eurozone, a contradiction adding to the confusion.
"This was to send a message to the EU Summit that they cannot continue forcing people in society to keep decreasing their standard of living. They have to understand it's impossible to continue in this way," Vassilis Xenakis, secretary of national affairs of ADEDY, the union representing public workers, told SETimes.
There's more at stake than just Greece's fate. Fears remain that if Greece leaves the eurozone, the whole bloc could be jeopardised.
All that matters to many in Greece, however, is how to survive the crisis that shows no signs of ending.
"These protests are developing rapidly," Antonis Simotas, 30, who is self-employed, told SETimes. "This is going to end in violence."