General strike against new austerity ends in minor scuffles in Athens

A protester holds a Greek flag as farmers gather outside the Greek Agriculture Ministry, in Athens, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. Several hundred farmers from the island of Crete are protesting against government tax reforms tied to the country's international bailout. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis) / via The Globe and Mail

Xinua — Greece was hit on Wednesday by a new 24-hour general strike against the fresh round of austerity measures that the government has tabled in parliament for vote in a bid to close the pending bailout review and secure funds for Athens  to pay existing loans.

About 10,000 protesters, according to police estimates, marched peacefully in the centre of Athens in the main rally organized by GSEE and ADEDY, the largest labour unions representing private sector employees and public servants.

The demonstration ended in minor scuffles between hooded youth and anti-riot police on Syntagma square in front of the parliament building.

Protesters hurled stones and petrol bombs at police, who returned with tear gas. No injuries have been reported so far.

“People resist the robbery,” chanted protesters during the 50th general strike called in Greece since the start of the debt crisis and the implementation of bailout programs in 2010, as GSEE President Giannis Panagopoulos noted.

Affected by the strike, schools closed nationwide, bus, train, ferry and airline services disrupted and public hospitals run only with emergency staff.

Public transport disruption may continue into Thursday, while ferries will remain docked until Friday, according to unionists.

The government defends the new package of tax hikes, pension cuts demanded by its creditors as a necessary step to ensure the country will not default on its loan obligations and start talks on debt relief to exit the crisis and restore growth.

Cabinet ministers have underlined that by 2021 the new austerity wave of 4.9 billion euros total worth will be counterbalanced by parallel relief measures, but only if and when Greece exceeds its high primary surplus targets.

Protesters on the streets of Athens and other major cities on Wednesday said that there was no more room for further sacrifices in a country still suffering chronic high unemployment rates and recession.

As protesters gathered in the capital, the office of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras issued a press release about a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It says the two leaders agreed that “a solution to the Greek debt issue is necessary and feasible at the next Euro Group meeting on May 22.”

The ratification of the vote bill containing the set of measures on Thursday also opened the road for Greece to participate in the European Central Bank’s (ECB) quantitative easing program this summer and tap the capital markets for first time since 2014, Greek banking sources told Greek national news agency AMNA.