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Europe

Unpopular pension reform approved amid strikes and protests

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-07-08

Greek lawmakers faced down a general strike and widespread protests Thursday to confirm approval of an unpopular reform which will raise the retirement age from 60 to 65 and cut pensions generally as part of efforts to stave off a major debt crisis.

AFP - Greek lawmakers on Thursday shrugged off a general strike and street protests to confirm approval of an unpopular pension reform, the latest in a wave of measures to stave off a major debt crisis.

A day after the reform was adopted in principle, the Socialist government's 157-seat majority in parliament also secured passage of the statutes of the law which raises the retirement age from 60 to 65 and generally cuts pensions.

"The bill has now been approved in principle and on the basis of its statutes," acting parliament speaker Grigoris Niotis said.

Some 12,000 people, according to police estimates, had earlier marched through Athens in the sixth general strike since February, carrying banners attacking the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.

Both the EU and the IMF are overseeing the government's tough programme of cuts in return for a disputed loan bailout for the debt-hit country.

"Out with the IMF, the EU and their appointed government," read one banner carried by the demonstrators; "IMF go home", read another.

Some 5,000 protestors also demonstrated in the northern city of Thessaloniki, local police said.

Thursday's protests were peaceful in contrast to past demonstrations which often saw young protesters clash with riot police.

But there was no mistaking the outrage of the protesters.

"No other government dared to do this, not even the dictatorship," said Panagiotis, a middle-aged pensioner at the Athens protests, referring to the seven-year military regime in the early 70s that deeply scarred the country.

Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have already seen their wages slashed in the middle of a deepening recession as the government struggles to contain decades of overspending.

But it was the cuts to pensions that sparked the latest protests.

Thursday's general strike was called by the GSEE labour confederation for the private sector, Adedy for government employees and the communist confederation Pame.

The government had faced talk of internal dissent over the bill which cuts pensions by an average of seven percent. A number of minor amendments were made to the final version, and senior ministers pledged to restore some benefits when the condition of the economy improves.

The Socialists are struggling to pull the country out of the crisis provoked by debts of nearly 300 billion euros. The Greek public debt has been estimated at 13.6 percent of gross domestic product.

Fears over the knock-on effect of this crisis have sent shockwaves through the other euro-currency economies, which is what prompted the rescue package.

The government agreed to press through the measures in return for a 110-billion-euro (134-billion-dollar) rescue loan from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

A similar pension reform specifically for civil servants will go before parliament next week.

Thursday's strike stopped thousands of travellers from reaching their holiday destinations at a time when Greece is trying to maximise its revenue from tourism, which makes up nearly a fifth of its economy.

More than 80 international and domestic flights were cancelled and 110 were delayed. No trains ran, city buses were off the streets and all ships were also blocked in ports. Tourists were warned that ferry departures would be put back to Friday.

The public administration, hospitals and state companies were all badly hit by the 24-hour protest which was accompanies by a news blackout.

Yiannis Panagopoulos chairman of the largest union, the GSEE, said workers had no intention of giving up the fight.

"Social and retirement rights are not erased, not even by the passing of a law," he said.

"Our fight for these rights will be long, and we will use every means at our disposal to overturn these unacceptable... and anti-social measures," he added.
 

Date created : 2010-07-08

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