Greece debt: Government sees hope in privatization despite protests
Officials see privatization as a way to dig out of Greece's debt, but newly unemployed workers are taking to the streets of Athens in protest. Tuesday's 10,000-strong demonstration may foreshadow larger protests to come, some say.
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COSCO is now planning to construct a €550 million ($670 million) second dock as well as a transhipment center that would promote Greece as a hub for western Europe and northern Africa. The company's president visited Athens in May to meet with Greek government officials, including Prime Minister George Papandreou.Skip to next paragraph
In a further sign of Greece's opening up to private foreign investment, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang visited Athens in mid-June and signed 14 commercial deals in shipping, real estate, and farm exports, though these did not specifically regard the privatization of state companies.
Businesspeople point out that private companies have come to the rescue in the past. “The Olympic Games of 2004 were an example of the private sector doing a job for the state rather than the politicians,” says Constantinos Antonopoulos, head of Intralot, a lottery systems supplier. "It’ll be a large mistake if the government doesn’t call this country’s private sector."
Further unrest looms
Civilians and economists fall on both sides of the debate on privatization, with some saying the sale of national companies merely pours cash into the black hole of a corrupt government, while others argue that the government is incapable of efficiently operating national companies and should sell its assets.
“In Greece, there is a caste of civil servants who benefit from the waste of public funds and who, along with the wealthy, can be targeted by the silent majority,” says Theodoris Georgakopoulos, the editor of the Greek edition of Esquire magazine. “The retired Olympic Airways employees who received €3,500 a month pensions and retired at 50 are one example of this.”
But private companies and the government are struggling to calm the unease over privatization.
Amid Tuesday's 10,000-strong demonstration, protesters set fires to garbage bins and smashed metro station entrances, throwing the chunks of marble at riot police. The general strike shut down public services, disrupted transport, and reduced hospitals to emergency staff.
And some observers are concerned about a new popular explosion of violence come October, as the carefree summer months recede and Greeks are faced with a fresh round of layoffs, slimmer salaries, and value added tax (VAT) at 21 percent.
“We’ve remained unpaid for six months and now we can’t pay the debt on our credit cards,” says Tratras, the former Olympic Airways employee. “Once this anger spills over, it’ll be unstoppable.”
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