NEWS

Security sky-high in port as thousands protest

More than 7,000 police officers have been mobilized in Thessaloniki where Prime Minister George Papandreou is on Saturday night to deliver the annual keynote speech on the state of the economy as thousands of demonstrators protest his government?s austerity drive in the streets of the northern port city.

The first protests began on Friday afternoon when members of the Communist Party-affiliated labor union PAME heckled Papandreou as he arrived at City Hall for talks with Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris.

Minor scuffles broke out between police officers and some of the 300 or so protesters shouting anti-austerity slogans but there were no reports of any injuries.

Police officers joined firefighters for another rally later in the day, protesting salary cuts.

At least 10 more demonstrations are planned for Saturday. The largest will probably be those organized by the Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), which represents some 2 million workers, and the civil servants? union ADEDY, the mouthpiece for approximately 800,000 public workers facing imminent salary cuts.

Several professional associations are planning rallies too. The country?s taxi drivers, up in arms over reforms opening up their sector to competition, are expected to turn out in large numbers.

Authorities are clearly prepared for the worst as, apart from mobilizing a record number of police officers, they are also planning to use a large metal fence that was set up outside Parliament in June when controversial reforms were voted into law amid violent protests. A water cannon has reportedly been procured and will be used if necessary.

In a sign that security fears are acute, Papandreou will not visit exhibits at the trade fair as is customary, sources said.