Greece on edge as officials decide on new bailout loan
Protesters blockaded the Finance Ministry building in Athens on Friday and called for a general strike as international finance officials prepared to announce whether they would award Greece a further 12 billion euros in bailout loans.
AFP - Trade union protesters on Friday occupied the Greek finance ministry, calling for a general strike as the prime minister flew to Luxembourg for key talks on finalising a new EU-IMF loan deal.
Members of the Communist-affiliated PAME union unfurled a giant banner from the roof of the ministry on central Syntagma Square, calling for mobilisation against a coming wave of additional austerity measures and asset sales.
"From dawn today forces of PAME have symbolically occupied the finance ministry, calling on workers to rise, organise their struggle and prevent the government's barbarous and anti-popular measures from passing," the Communist-affiliated syndicate said.
The protesters replaced the European Union flag on the ministry roof with a PAME banner and set up loudspeakers blaring slogans and songs.
"It is our debt to fight for our children," said one recorded message, followed by a song refrain: "No, we are not selling."
A senior PAME unionist, George Perros, said the group intended to stay at the ministry until the evening.
"We will stay here until 7pm (1600 GMT) and then join a PAME street protest in central Athens," he told AFP.
Prime Minister George Papandreou is due to Luxembourg later Friday for talks with the eurozone's head policymaker Jean-Claude Trichet on Greece's economic crisis.
Athens needs an instalment of 12 billion euros ($17 billion), part of an overall 110-billion-euro rescue loan from the EU, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, to pay next month's bills.
But with its economy still in the doldrums, Greece is also trying to broker additional loans from the so-called 'troika' which rescued it from bankruptcy last year.
Greek newspapers reported Friday that tortuous talks with the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank for the 12-billion-euro loan tranche had concluded and that announcements were expected later in the day.
Financial daily Naftemboriki spoke of a new "three-year rescue deal" in return for a new loan worth over 60 billion euros ($86 billion).
"A report (on the conclusion of negotiations) and the coming new aid package is to be announced today, according to sources," added pro-government daily Ta Nea.
The new rescue deal is to be rubber-stamped by EU finance ministers at a meeting on June 20, Ta Nea added.
The EU-IMF talks have dragged on for an unprecedented four weeks, raising concern that a disastrous deadlock was looming.
Additional austerity measures adopted by the government to clinch a new bailout have sparked mounting anger.
And a 50-billion-euro privatisation drive to reduce the debt, including major companies such as the country's main telecoms and electricity operators, has caused further outrage.
On Thursday, government spokesman George Petalotis was heckled and pelted with fruit and pots of yoghurt by protesters as he arrived to give a speech at an elder people's home at the Athens suburb of Argyroupoli.
He was later evacuated by police without injury.
The government blamed the incident on the small Left Coalition party which has led street protests against the government, and whose young leader Alexis Tsipras has famously likened the Greek PM to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Since last week, tens of thousands of Greeks have gathered at Athens' main Syntagma Square to protest against successive waves of spending cuts and tax hikes that have brought a deep recession and many layoffs.
The country's main unions on Thursday called another general strike on June 15, the third this year against the government's economic policies, and a round of mobilisations on June 9 at state companies under privatisation.