Angry Greeks take to streets

Thousands march against austerity measures, clash with cops in May Day protest

Angry Greeks take to streets

A demonstrator tries to avoid a petrol bomb during clashes between police and demonstrators in central Athens on Saturday. AFP

At one rally, police fired two or three rounds of tear gas against 20 protesters trying to reach parliament. The protesters retreated and the march, which was otherwise largely peaceful, continued.

Shops were closed, ships stayed docked and the streets of the capital were unusually empty except for protesters marching toward parliament, metres away from the Finance Ministry where EU and IMF officials have been meeting for days to agree a new set of austerity measures.

“No to the IMF’s junta!” protesters chanted, referring to the military dictatorship which ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974.

“Hands off our rights! IMF and EU Commission out!,” the protesters shouted as they marched to parliament.

A common call among many of those interviewed in the unusually empty streets of Athens was for punishment of those responsible for Greece’s biggest crisis in decades, in a country where corruption scandals and tax evasion are widespread.

‘Throw crooks to sea’

“We should throw all the crooks into the sea, all the people and politicians who are responsible for this crisis,” said 58-year old insurance worker Sotiris Oikonomou.

With initial police estimates at around 17,000 protesters, participation in the march seemed to be around the same level as previous anti-austerity protests. Some were resigned to the fact that the government would move ahead with reforms anyhow. “I don’t expect anything to change with this march. We just fight for our dignity,” Oikonomou said.

Greece, whose 240 billion euro economy plunged into recession last year, is preparing more than 20 billion euros ($26.64 billion) in budget cuts over the next two years to secure access to an EU/IMF aid package of up to 120 billion.

The aid package is aimed at pulling Greece out of a severe debt crisis, which has hit the euro and shaken markets worldwide, and avoid contagion to other euro zone countries.

Euro zone finance ministers are due to discuss the deal on Sunday. French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said she expected agreement could be reached by the end of Sunday.

Analysts say social protests may increase after the summer once the impact of the austerity measures kicks in, and investors are worried this may hamper reforms.
Rating agencies have warned they could cut the country’s rating further if the government lost public support.

The government has already agreed three sets of austerity measures including tax hikes and pension freeze over the last six months, and many fear the EU/IMF plan will hurt their livelihood further, in a country where one in five lives below the poverty threshold.

“We will not permit the destruction of our rights, we will block their plans,” said public sector umbrella union ADEDY. “It’s time for our biggest social battle.”

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