Athens erupts in violent protests over austerity measures

At least one Athens protest turned violent in Greece today after thousands walked away from their jobs in protest against austerity measures.

Petros Giannakouris/AP
Riot policemen try to avoid petrol bombs thrown by protesters during a rally in Athens, Thursday. Clashes have broken out between riot police and youths at a demonstration in central Athens during the first general strike since the country's left-led government initially came to power in January.

Workers left their jobs in droves and flooded the streets of Greece on Thursday in a massive countrywide strike aimed at sending a message against further austerity measures.

The walkout comes as the left-leaning government of Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras meets this week with international lenders from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund who insists that Greece increase taxes and further tighten pensions.  

Greece has taken on nearly 100 billion euros in debt since the country's economy began to stumble in 2010. 

This week, Greece’s two largest unions called for tens of thousands of members to leave their jobs, shutting down airports, banks, and schools, and paralyzing much of the country.

At least 20,000 people joined three protests in Athens to rally against austerity measures, one of which turned violent.

Dozens of youths were shown clashing with helmet-clad riot police. “Petrol bombs were thrown at bins, a van roadblocks and the front of the Bank of Greece’s offices,” The Guardian reports. Police responded with a wave of tear gas and stun grenades.

Through a video posted online, one protester wearing a black mask and clothing was seen hurling Molotov cocktails at an officer carrying a shield.

"My salary is not enough to cover even my basic needs," said Dimitris Nomikos, a teacher who left school to join the protests, to Reuters. "My students are starving."

Despite an influx of bailout money, unemployment remains at 25 percent. Demonstrations have been common over the last five years but have largely quieted since January, when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras swept into power promising to end years of budget cuts.

But in an about-face, after EU members levied threats to force Greece from the euro zone, Mr. Tsipras agreed to more stringent terms in accepting a third bailout that much of the public viewed unfavorably.

According to Reuters, Tsipras’ political party, Syriza, supported Thursday’s strike because many members believed the move would raise Greece’s leverage during discussions with lenders.

Grigoris Kalomoiris, a high-ranking member of the Greek civil-servant’s union, Adedy, told The Guardian that unions have waited long enough to see results, promising more protests through the year.

"The winter is going to be explosive and this will mark the beginning," said Mr. Kalomoiris. "When the average wage has already been cut by 30 percent, when the social security system is at risk of collapse, we cannot sit still."

Greece may need more than 14 billion euros to avoid insolvency. Tsipras is now negotiating with lenders for the release of more than $10 billion to Greek banks. The EU and IMF are pushing the country to comply with tougher foreclosure policies and non-payment of taxes, Bloomberg reports.

Manolis Galenianos, an economics professor at the University of London, told Bloomberg that the policies creditors are asking the prime minister to enforce go above and beyond what is needed. 

"This wasn't necessary, it could have been avoided, and the government will now implement deeper cuts to achieve less ambitious fiscal target," Galenianos said.

But not all Greeks support the strikes. Some in the private sector and even small businesses see the latest shutdown as a stunt that’s only going to hurt business and dampen the weakened market.

"All I want to do is get on with the business of selling glasses," said Spyros Gerakidis, an optician who owns a family business, to The Guardian. 

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