Thousands protest Greece austerity as prime minister seeks consenus
May 26, 2011, 17:45 GMT
Athens - Angered by the economic situation plaguing their country, more than 5,000 Greeks gathered in Athens Thursday to protest the government's austerity policies.
The crowd had gathered in response to an online campaign inspired by recent turnouts in Spain.
It was the second straight day that a crowd assembled in the capital's central Syntagma Square, shouting 'Thieves, Thieves' and waving banners at politicians inside the nearby parliament building.
On Wednesday, more than 15,000 people crowded in the main squares in the northern port city of Thessaloniki, the mainland cities of Patras, Larissa and Volos and the cities of Rethymno and Hania on the southern Mediterranean island of Crete.
The protests were inspired by a similar mobilization in Spain this week, although the Greek version showed no inclination for a sit-in.
Such protests are something of a rarity for Greece as they are not linked to a particular party and not organized by labor unions.
Despite receiving a 110-billion-euro (155-billion-dollar) bailout last year from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, Greece is again on the brink of insolvency as efforts to meet tough targets are being hampered by a deep recession, high unemployment and weak revenues.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou called on political party leaders to meet on Friday in a fresh bid to reach consensus on measures to reduce to the country's massive deficit.
Athens had received a warning from the European Union that it would get no further aid unless there was broad political consensus, as was the case in Ireland and Portugal.
Ignoring one of the main conditions for further aid, Greece's opposition parties have so far rejected the new package of austerity measures, saying that further belt-tightening policies agreed in return for the emergency bailout will have negative repercussions on the economy.
Papandreou asked the country's president, Carolos Papoulias, to call all the party leaders together for the meeting after talks this week failed to reach consensus.
Inspectors from the IMF, EU and European Central Bank were back in Athens this week to assess whether Greece should receive its next tranche of emergency funding.
Officials have asked Greece to speed up reforms, which would clear the way for the next loan instalment of 12 billion euros (16.8 billion dollars) to be given to the cash-strapped country as part of a 110-billion-euro emergency bailout.
Greece announced a new round of austerity measures totalling 6 billion euros on Monday as part of a mid-term programme, including accelerating privatizations of government holdings and tax hikes as part of EU-IMF conditions for the release of the next loan tranche in June.
Athens said it is determined to raise 50 billion euros by 2015 through the privatizations of the country's two biggest ports, as well as OTE Telecom and Hellenic Portbank.
The outcome of the inspection visit will determine whether Athens gets a fifth batch of bailout money.
The government says it will submit the mid-term fiscal plan to parliament in early June.
European leaders remained at odds on how to handle Greece's debt crisis, with credit rating agencies warning that a debt default by the southern Mediterranean country would have a direct effect on other eurozone countries.
Concern over Greek solvency have reawakened fears that the eurozone debt crisis - which has already pushed Ireland and Portugal to also seek bailouts - may spread further.
Officials in the EU have suggested exploring a 'soft voluntary restructuring' that might see the maturities of outstanding debt extended.
But the European Central Bank has warned against such a move and rating agencies have said they would consider it a 'credit event,' or default.
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