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Police and youth clash at austerity plan protests

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-02-25

Greek police clashed with youths Wednesday as thousands took to the streets in Athens to protest an austerity plan that includes wage freezes and tax rises. EU officials are currently in Athens to assess whether Greece is able to cut its deficit.

Tens of thousands of protesters marched through Athens on Wednesday to protest against austerity plans aimed at wrenching Greece out of a debt crisis that has shaken the euro zone. According to police estimates, the demonstrations drew at least 27,000 people in Athens and around 7,000 in the city of Thessaloniki.

The demonstration, which started out peaceful, turned violent when police fired teargas to push back a group of young protesters who tried to storm a university building in the Greek capital. Demonstrators retaliated by throwing stones and petrol bombs at security officials. Two photographers were injured in the clashes while three people were arrested.

Sudha Nair, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Athens, reports that the government does not want people to enter the campus because “students are based there, and they are throwing Molotov cocktails, for example.”

Nair went on to say that the government’s seemingly excessive concerns about the students may not be completely baseless.

“They don’t want a repeat of the December 2008 riots,” she explains, referring to clashes that began in Athens on December 6, 2008, when a Greek policeman shot and killed a 15-year-old student. This incident spiraled into a mass protest encompassing multiple layers of deep-seated resentment, touching on issues like police brutality and general unemployment. The riots went on for three weeks.

Normal life in Greece came to a complete standstill in 2008 as a general strike hit schools, government offices and courthouses, while public transport, banks, hospitals and state-owned companies faced major disruption.

The 24-hour general strike is the first to hit the Socialist government after their election victory in October on an economic salvation ticket.

Calls for more EU help

The protests Wednesday coincide with a visit by delegations from the European Commission, ECB and the IMF to assess whether Greece is on track to cut its double-digit deficit. Doubts persist in Brussels as to whether the Greek government will meet its pledges as it struggles to deal with a 300 billion euro debt amid deepening recession.

The General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), John Monks, urged the European Union to do more to help Greece.

"For the time being they are threatening to withdraw their support and this could create an anti-EU sentiment among Greeks," he told reporters on Wednesday.

A collapse in confidence on the financial markets over the country’s ability to finance itself have put Greek government bonds under pressure, weakened the euro and pushed the euro zone into crisis.

Fitch Ratings on Tuesday downgraded the ratings of Greece's four largest banks, expecting fiscal tightening to weigh on the economy and loan demand, thus denting profits.

"Today Greece is the guinea pig for EU stability and the euro's resilience. Today it is Greece, tomorrow it will be Spain, Portugal and Italy," the Chairman of the General Confederation of Greek Workers, Yiannis Panagopoulos, said in a statement.

Athens tackling taxes


Date created : 2010-02-24


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