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Thousands strike hoping to influence talks with EU and IMF

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-06

Thousands of civil servants took to the streets Thursday as part of a general strike to pressure the Greek government not to agree to further budget cuts in discussions with the EU and IMF over a planned bailout.

Reuters - Thousands of striking Greek civil servants marched on Thursday to protest against austerity measures, warning of a social explosion if the government agreed further cuts in aid talks with the EU and IMF.

 
More than 10,000 civil servants and students marched to parliament, calling for cutbacks to be scrapped, beating drums and chanting: "No more illusions, war against the rich."
 
Nurses, teachers, tax officials and dockers stopped work during the 24-hour strike, which paralysed public services, while EU and IMF officials met in Athens for talks that could lead to a financial bailout for Greece.
 
Workers are protesting against public wage cuts, a pensions freeze and tax hikes imposed by the government to try to pull Greece out of a fiscal crisis that has shaken markets worldwide and driven Greece's borrowing costs to a 12-year high.
 
Participation in the march was not larger than previous times but unions, workers, and analysts said anger was building up and warned of the risk of social unrest.
 
The public wants to see corrupt politicians and tax evaders behind bars and says more measures would mean their sacrifices so far are in vain. "People are asking for blood," said ALCO pollster Costas Panagopoulos. "They need someone to be punished for what is happening. They want the government to put all those who did not pay their taxes in prison."
 
Polls show Prime Minister George Papandreou still enjoys support but most believe the austerity measures are unfair. Analysts say that if the government's efforts do not seem to be putting Greece on the right path and more steps are needed, there will be heated reaction come autumn.
 
"I am really afraid there may be social violence, extreme reactions," Panagopoulos told Reuters.
  
"Social explosion"?
 
The public sector union ADEDY, which represents half a million workers, warned of more protests after staging its fourth nationwide strike this year. Private sector union GSEE has said it would go on a strike in May.
 
"We expect a social explosion some time soon," said ADEDY secretary general Ilias Iliopoulos. "The possibility of the IMF asking for more measures will trigger this."
 
Many in Greece fear strings attached to the 40 billion-45 billion euro ($53.8 billion to 60.5 billion) aid package, if the cash-strapped nation decides to tap it, will hit living standards in a country where one person in five lives below the poverty threshold, according to EU data.
 
"These measures will knock us out. We can't take it anymore, we want the IMF out of the country," said 60-year old public sector pensioner Aspasia Aretaki. "The rich, the corrupt politicians should pay for the crisis, not me."
 
The government, pressured by markets and EU policymakers to tidy up its finances, has promised to go ahead with reforms but Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said on Wednesday no more austerity measures would be taken this year.
 
Some bystanders showed no sympathy for the strike, saying the government had no choice but to enact austerity measures and tap the aid package after the yield on Greece's 10-year bond jumped to 8.8 percent on Thursday.
 
"I think these measures are necessary and I expect more to be announced if we get the help," said 58-year old pensioner Dimitra Vassiliou. "We are so indebted that we can't make it on our own any more. We need to have someone to check on us."
 
 Estimates of the level of participation in the public sector strike varied widely.
 
 Tourists left stranded at ports and facing closed archaeological sites said the strikes were counterproductive.
 
"I don't see the point of a strike," said American tourist Brynn Drabik, stranded in front of the closed gates of the Acropolis. "How does that actually help the economy when production is slowing and you are stopping yourself from earning good business from tourists?"

 

Date created : 2010-04-22

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