Unions launch new 24-hour strike against austerity cuts
Greek unions launched a 24-hour general strike on Tuesday to protest against a raft of strict austerity measures that Greek politicians are in the process of negotiating with the EU and IMF in order to secure new bailout funds.
AFP - Greece was gripped by a 24-hour general strike on Tuesday called by the country's biggest unions to fight a new wave of austerity measures being negotiated with the EU and IMF.
Protesters vented their anger at their government, at yet another round of cuts to incomes, at the EU and IMF, and at what they see as a hard line spearheaded by Germany.
"No to public sector layoffs!", "No to to cutting the minimum wage!", protest banners said as thousands braved short spells of rain on Syntagma Square in Athens.
One group of protesters burned a German flag in front of parliament, and tried to set fire to one that portrayed the Nazi swastika, in reaction to calls from Berlin for strict budgetary discipline.
The square has become a landmark of Greek anger against austerity measures from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
There was only a skeleton service operating in schools, ministries, hospitals and banks while commuters using buses and metros faced major delays in Athens. Air travel was expected to remain unaffected however.
"Unemployment, poverty, impoverishment of the country: the fault of agreements with the EU, IMF and ECB," another banner said.
The European Central Bank is also part of the so-called troika of creditors dealing with Athens.
The strike was called by Greece's biggest unions, including the private sector GSEE and the civil servants' union, Adedy.
About 5,000 people late on Monday braved a torrential thunderstorm and strong winds to took part in protests in Athens called by the unions and left-wing parties against the austerity measures.
Later on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was to meet the heads of the socialist, conservative and far-right parties that form his unwieldy coalition and reach agreement on budget cuts demanded by Greece's creditors.
Yiannis Panagopoulos, leader of the GSEE union, has described the measures as a "death sentence" for the country, aimed at slashing salaries by 20-30 percent on top of previously imposed cuts.
Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos blamed the parties for the failure to reach consensus on debt negotiations with Greece's EU-IMF creditors.
"Instead of looking at this tragic dilemma... with national unity... there are many who spend their effort on a conventional, outdated, party confrontation as if nothing has happened," Venizelos said.
Papademos, being pulled one way by his EU partners and the other by domestic sentiment, met officials from the EU, European Central Bank (ECB) and IMF again on Monday evening.
Those talks were aimed at wrapping up weeks of negotiations and saving his country from a historic default in March that could roil the 17-nation eurozone and undercut a global economic recovery.