Striking workers, but no riots this time, in protests over Greece debt bailout
Workers took to the streets of Athens today to protest the government budget cuts demanded in exchange for the $140 billion Greece debt bailout. While some feared a repeat of violent May 5 demonstrations, the protest was peaceful.
Tens of thousands of striking workers marched in central Athens Thursday to protest austerity measures adopted by the government to pay for the Greece debt bailout, a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that European Union's common currency is experiencing an “existential" crisis.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It was the first nationwide strike since the government passed a $40 billion austerity package through parliament that will reduce civil servants’ salaries by up to 20 percent, increase value-added tax by 2 percent, and crack down on income tax dodgers. Protesters gathered in front of the tan-colored parliament, shouting “thieves! thieves!” and pelting riot police with plastic water bottles and iced coffees.
“If our national heroes knew that the country they fought for would end up looking like this, they wouldn’t have bothered to fight,” Giorgos Georgiou, 34, said as he pushed up against a triple line of riot police equipped with body armour and gas-masks. “We want our money back and for the thieves inside the debating chamber to pay up.”
Riot police on watch
Large numbers of riot police were deployed in central Athens and detained dozens in what an anonymous police official quoted in the Greek media described as “precautionary detentions.”
The government was concerned about a repeat of the uncontrolled May 5 protests, which led to the deaths of three bank workers when hundreds of protesters set fire to a bank building and also tried to storm the parliament. Prime Minister George Papandreou, attending an Arab investors’ meeting in Beirut, expressed sympathy with the strikers but made clear that unrest would not be tolerated.
But much of the raw anger expressed in the May 5 demonstration had dissipated, a sign that Prime Minister Papendreou may have time to pursue budget cuts, which was the price demanded by the International Monetary Fund and wealthier EU nation's for a $140 billion bailout of the Greek government.
"Fewer people came out today because most of them are scared and mired in debt,” says Christos Retoulas, a civil servant who marched in today’s demonstration. “This system has tied them down hands-and-feet.”