Greek protesters clash with riot police over austerity
Feb 10, 2012, 13:29 GMT
Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-austerity demonstration in Athens, Greece, 10 February 2012. EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI
Athens - Greek police clashed with rioters Friday as thousands took to the streets of Athens during a nationwide strike, a day after the country's bailout was put in a state of uncertainty by the eurozone.
At least one person was reported injured after hundreds of angry rioters broke away from a peaceful demonstration involving more than 11,000 people, on the first day of a 48-hour strike called by the country's two main labour unions.
Hundreds of black hooded rioters hurled petrol bombs and large slabs of marble at police, who retaliated by firing tear gas into the crowd of demonstrators.
The strike came a day after international lenders refused to agree to a second bailout for Greece, saying the country had not yet met all demands on austerity measures. They gave Athens until next week to provide guarantees on the austerity measures and on the economic reforms that have been promised in return for funding.
A cabinet meeting was called for later Friday, while the country's main political groups, the left-of-centre PASOK party and the conservatives were to hold talks to discuss the cutbacks.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and the leaders of the three parties backing his coalition government have already agreed to private sector wage cuts, public sector layoffs and spending cuts to health, social security and defence budgets.
Party leaders said a solution to slashing pensions had been found, after initially refusing demands for more cuts.
Meanwhile, the leader of a junior partner in Greece's coalition government, George Karatzaferis, said he would reject the new austerity measures at a vote expected over the weekend.
But as long as the two other major parties in the coalition approve the bill, the 16 deputies in Karatzaferis' right-wing LAOS party will not be able to halt its progress through parliament.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the costly bailout plans for Greece in a meeting with parliamentary leaders, saying it was the 'path of the least damage' as default scenarios had 'uncontrollable' risks attached.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble defended the decision to withhold a decision on Greek aid for another week. 'It is not about torturing the Greeks,' he told legislators. Rather, the aim was to return Athens to a course offering the euro partners an 'adequate life.'
Two thirds of Germans doubt that Greece is serious about budget cuts, according to a survey published Friday by public broadcaster ZDF.
Just 27 per cent of those asked thought that Greece was seriously trying to implement promised austerity measures, while 66 per cent expressed doubt.
Friday's walkout by Greek public and private sector workers paralyzed public transport and forced ferries to remain moored at ports around the country.
Government offices, banks, schools, courtrooms, museums and archaeological sites remained closed, while hospitals operated with emergency staff.
Union anger is directed at a 22-per-cent cut in the minimum wage, public sector pay freezes and layoffs, tax and labour market reforms as well as privatizations.
The demonstrations were expected to continue until Sunday, when parliament is to vote on the terms of the loan agreement.
The austerity measures being forced upon Greece by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have sparked widespread anger throughout the country, which is currently facing a fifth consecutive year of recession and posted an unemployment rate of 21 per cent for November.
Highlighting the anger, Greece's police union said in a letter that it was seeking an arrest warrant for the country's international lenders.
'You are jeopardizing Greece's democracy and the survival of its people,' the letter said. Reports said the union was seeking the arrest warrant from the Greek state attorney.
Thousands of 'Wanted' flyers were also distributed around the Greek capital, offering an award of 1 euro to anyone who apprehends the troika.
Greece's 130-billion-euro (173-billion-dollar) aid package needs to be signed off by the end of next week if it is to be ready in time by March 20, when Athens faces a 14.5-billion-euro bond repayment.
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