Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thousands of Greeks Strike; Flights grounded, schools closed


Greece hit by nationwide strike over austerity measures

Protesters take to the streets in Athens

Thousands of Greeks have rallied against deficit-cutting measures during a national public sector strike.

Flights have been grounded, many schools are closed and hospitals are operating an emergency-only service. The prime minister, who wants to freeze pay, gather more taxes and reform pensions, insisted that the proposals would be fully implemented.

EU leaders will discuss Greece's difficulties on Thursday amid concern the crisis could threaten the euro. European finance ministers are also due to hold a teleconference on Wednesday to talk about the issue.

Public anger

Despite heavy rain, there have been rallies across Greece throughout the day, with thousands of striking workers and pensioners gathering in the capital, Athens. Several thousand people were also reported to have protested in Greece's second city, Thessaloniki. The rallies have been mainly peaceful, but in one incident police fired tear gas at rubbish collectors who tried to drive through a police cordon.

Some demonstrators threw stones at the police but the trouble was quickly defused. The unions regard the austerity programme as a declaration of war against the working and middle classes, the BBC's Malcolm Brabant reports from the capital.

He says their resolve is strengthened by their belief that this crisis has been engineered by external forces, such as international speculators and European central bankers. "It's a war against workers and we will answer with war, with constant struggles until this policy is overturned," said Christos Katsiotis, a union member affiliated to the Communist Party, at the Athens rally.

Others in the capital either see the cuts as necessary or argue that the strike is politically motivated. "We have to implement the austerity measures, or the country will not be able to get out of this crisis," said Katerina, a private sector employee. "We have to pay for the mistakes of the past."

On Tuesday, Prime Minister George Papandreou's socialist government announced that it intends to raise the average retirement age from 61 to 63 by 2015 in a bid to save the cash-strapped pensions system.

The move comes on top of other planned austerity measures, including a public sector salary freeze and a hike in petrol prices, announced last week. More...

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