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Protests in Greece against austerity measures

Reuters
May 21, 2010 at 09:43am IST

Athens: Thousands of striking Greeks marched peacefully to Parliament on Thursday in a protest against government austerity measures that was much smaller than a huge rally that led to rioting on May 5.

Anger may have receded since the shock of big government wage cuts and tax hikes that came in an agreement with the EU and IMF immediately preceding the last big protest.

Many Greeks also said they had been put off by the raw violence of the May 5 march when three bank workers, including a pregnant woman, were killed after rioters smashed windows and lobbed petrol bombs into the branch where they worked.

Protests in Greece against austerity measures

Many Greeks say they have been put off by the violence of the May 5 march when three people were killed.

Some 25,000 people marched through central Athens and gathered in front of parliament, about half the number of those who turned out for the previous big demonstration.

"Thieves come out", and "bring back the stolen money and get out of there", protesters chanted outside parliament as riot police carrying batons and shields ringed the steps of the neo-classical building.

But after an hour most of the crowd melted away and riot police filed off soon after.

The strike was called by unions representing 2.5 million workers, half the country's workforce, who want the government to withdraw austerity measures agreed with the EU and IMF in return for a 110 billion-euro ($137 billion) emergency loan.

Schools and government offices were shut and hospitals were operating on skeleton staff. Tourist sites such as Athens' ancient Acropolis were also closed, ships were kept in port or prevented from docking, and domestic flights were disrupted.

Tourism hit

Protesters said the austerity measures only hurt the poor.

"They have cut my monthly salary by 300 euros and I raise two children on my own. It's very difficult. The money is not enough anymore," said ministry employee Paraskevi Zisi.

"They should tax those who have money, those who owe them. I never stole anything from them. I will continue protesting for as long as I can because hope dies last," she said as she marched to parliament.

While there is palpable public anger against the measures, opinion polls show most Greeks agree reform is necessary to stem the debt crisis. But the overwhelming majority feel ordinary people are being made to pay while the rich still evade taxes.

The Socialist Greek government has pledged to go after tax dodgers and corrupt politicians and has so far shown no sign of soft-pedaling on the austerity measures.

"People have realized they cannot change the measures. On the other hand the summer is coming. This doesn't mean that people don't feel the pain but the way they deal with it is different," said Costas Panagopoulos, head of ALCO pollsters.

Political analysts say the government may now face a period of relative calm as Greeks start fleeing the capital for the summer break next month. But come autumn, anger could rise again if incomes from tourism fall as predicted.

The fear of being stranded by strikes or getting caught up in violent protests has chilled the tourism sector, leading to thousands of cancellations in an industry which generates nearly 20 per cent of GDP and provides one in five jobs.

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