Greece at standstill amid anti-austerity strike

09:50, May 21, 2010      

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An eldery man sits at the empty Athens train station during a 24-hour general strike Thursday. Photo: AFP

Thousands of striking Greeks marched on parliament Thursday, in a test of the government's resolve to implement tough austerity measures demanded by the EU and IMF to drag Greece out of its debt crisis.

The strength of the march will indicate whether anger against the government's wage cuts, tax hikes, and planned pension reform is growing or beginning to recede.

"Thieves come out," the protesters chanted in front of parliament where hundreds of riot police carrying batons and shields ringed the steps of the neo-classical building.

Thousands of demonstrators filled the square in front of parliament, but after an hour many had begun melting away from the square.

"These measures are destroying everything we have fought for. Where are the measures against unemployment? We were not the ones who created this crisis," said unemployed Nikos Galiatsatos, 26, one of the marchers.

Police said there were some 15,000 people on the march, but authorities usually give a low turnout. The demonstration was nevertheless much smaller than that of May 5 when some 50,000 protesters filled the streets and three people were killed.

Those deaths, or the fear of further violence, appeared to have dampened the strength of the protest this time.

The main Communist labor group PAME, normally a well-disciplined vanguard of Greek labor protests, abandoned plans to join the march on parliament.

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.

But the Greek government, in power for seven months, has so far shown no sign of caving in to the protests.

"Greece is changing rapidly, we are determined," Prime Minister George Papandreou told the Arab Economic Forum in Beirut.

Meanwhile, Greek stocks fell over 3 percent Thursday. A day earlier, the stock exchange had tumbled by over 4 percent before dragging itself back up as the government avoided default by tapping into EU rescue funds.

Source: Global Times


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