NEWS

Riot-free rally sees smaller turnout

Thousands of Greek workers joined the seventh general strike of the year on Thursday to protest the government?s plans to continue with an austerity drive that has cut salaries, pensions and layoffs in the state sector.

But the turnout by protesters was small, with police putting the total crowd numbers in Athens at around 17,000, compared to more than 50,000 in October?s walkout that was marred by some serious rioting. Some 6,000 protesters converged in Thessaloniki.

The demonstrations in both cities were relatively peaceful, with only one moment of tension when a few dozen youths clashed with riot police in the central Athens district of Exarchia. There were no reports of any injuries and no arrests.

The strike too was less disruptive than usual, with flights operating as normal and taxi drivers and pharmacists — who have joined previous strikes to protest plans to open their sectors to competition — working as usual.

Still the action showed that the two main labor unions — the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE) and the civil servants? union (ADEDY) are still set on fighting reforms that the country?s new three-party coalition has pledged to push through in exchange for rescue loans. The unions — particularly ADEDY — represent a key barrier to the government?s efforts.

In a letter to Greece?s creditors last month, the outgoing premier and leader of Socialist PASOK, George Papandreou, indicated that the civil service was an obstacle to change. ?There is not an issue of political will; it is much more a lack of capacity of our civil service and public administration, to carry out innovative and radical change in such a short time,? he said.