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Thousands rally in Greece against austerity measures

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-04

Around 10,000 protesters swarmed Athens and Thessaloniki Thursday, in rallies against Greece's drastic new austerity measures. More demonstrations are expected to rile the country in coming days, and a general strike has been called for Friday.

AFP - Around 10,000 leftist protesters rallied late Thursday in central Athens and Thessaloniki against a debt-dictated austerity programme as Greece braced for a new barrage of strikes and work stoppages.

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in front of Athens University, chanting "Work for the unemployed!" and unfurling banners reading, "You want war, you have it!"

A 'vote of confidence'

Greece launched a five-billion-euro (6.8-billion-dollar) bond issue Thursday to raise desperately needed funds and drew a very good response.

The government said it had attracted offers amounting to about 16 billion euros on a 10-year bond, describing the successful bond issue as a vote of confidence in its debt-saddled economy.

The demonstration, called for by unions and radical left lawmakers, was expected to end with a march to parliament, where Communist protesters were rallying with their own banners scrawled with slogans like "War against the capitalists' war!"

The ground was littered with tracts calling for strikes Friday, when the Greek parliament is due to vote on a series of belt-tightening measures.

Called for Thursday by two Greek unions -- the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), which represents around a million members, and the 300,000-member civil servant union ADEDY -- the strikes are expected snarl flights and disrupt the operation of ministries.

Flights through Greece will be hit with a 1000-1400 GMT work stoppage by air traffic controllers, while Athens buses and trams will halt for the entire day.

Rail employees and sailors are expected to clarify their own stance later on Thursday.

Demonstrations by Communist workers, leftists and unions will be held outside parliament during the voting of the austerity cuts into law. Police officers, included in the pay cuts, have been invited by their syndicate to join protests in Athens and other cities.

The Socialist government on Wednesday unveiled a programme of civil servant pay cuts, tax hikes and a pension freeze to save 4.8 billion euros (6.5 billion dollars) and ease pressure on the country's debt-hit economy.

"These measures will inevitably lead the real economy to a deep recession, into the freezer really," GSEE chairman Yiannis Panagopoulos told reporters.

Greece is mired in recession and has an official unemployment rate of over 10 percent. Unions say the real rate is higher.

Earlier Thursday, 300 communist union members invaded the finance ministry, and unemployed staff from former state carrier Olympic Airlines occupied the state accounting office.

European officials have praised the latest Greek cuts. But so far there is no clear signal that financial help might emerge, and the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund are insisting that Greece must show it is reforming the entire structure of its economy.

During talks in Berlin Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to tell Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou that it is up to Athens to solve its financial problems.

Date created : 2010-03-04


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