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Greece hit by new wave of protests, braces for fresh austerity measures

(Xinhua)

08:07, September 21, 2011


A protester (L) holds a sign during a demonstration in central Athens, capital of Greece, Sept. 20, 2011. Greek public sector workers staged a demonstration on Tuesday protesting against the Greek government's new austerity measures of lay-offs and salary cuts in the public sector. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)


ATHENS, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- Greece was hit by a new wave of labor union protests on Tuesday, as the government is set to announce a fresh round of austerity measures to counter a severe debt crisis that has plagued the eurozone member country since late 2009.

The umbrella labor union of civil servants' ADEDY held a symbolic rally in front of the Finance Ministry in central Athens on Tuesday noon, denouncing planned new cutbacks on wages, tax increases and layoffs.

"We are not the ones who created this crisis. We will not sacrifice our lives and the lives of our children to pay for it," protesters shouted.

The demonstration came hours before a second conference call between Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos and EU/International Monetary Fund (IMF) creditors, as Athens tries to convince the lenders to release vital further aid to Greece in October.

Foreign lenders are pressing Athens to deliver on unpopular privatization programs, structural reforms and fiscal targets that will secure the success of the stability and growth plan underway, before releasing further tranches.

If the ongoing deliberations wind up with no positive result, the country, with a debt burden of 350 billion euros (about 478.94 billion U.S. dollars), will run out of cash next month, Greek officials have admitted.

But civil servants angry over a planned dismissal of up to 100,000 employees in the public sector over the next four years, amongst other steps, warned with a culmination of anti-austerity mobilizations.

After a year of painful austerity and reform drives, the situation in Athens still looked bleak. EU partners are losing patience, and the incumbent Greek government's popularity is sinking as deficits grow amid a deepening recession.

The government blames the contracting economy mainly on tax collection, but foreign auditors are pointing their fingers at delays in structural reforms, such as privatizations, due to domestic political opposition and criticism.

ADEDY has called for work stoppages in state-run companies on Thursday, and another rally in the center of Athens, focusing on cutbacks in the education system this time and a 24-hour strike on Oct. 6.

Secondary and primary school pupils staged their own symbolic march to the parliament on Tuesday over shortages in teachers and textbooks, as university students continued their three-week takeovers of faculties over reforms.

In the mass transport sector, unions of employees in the Athens subway schedule 24-hour strikes, starting from this Thursday, while air traffic controllers planned a 24-hour strike on Sept. 25, a four-hour work stoppage on Sept. 28, along with participating in ADEDY's October strike.

The umbrella union of private sector GSEE workers plan similar mobilizations and a strike to join with ADEDY's action next month.

"The requests of our lenders and the government's strategy to exit the crisis are unacceptable," said GSEE President Yiannis Panagopoulos this week, warning with further protests against the "unfair and unbearable measures."

"Yes, we all want to save Greece, but this country is not the mountains nor stadiums. It is the people. We should all survive this difficult challenge with dignity," he said.

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