Greek protesters march on finance ministry with gifts of food

Municipal workers marched on the finance minister’s office in Athens with baskets of olive oil, tomatoes and a whole chicken on Thursday in an ironic protest after he suggested his family was suffering like other Greeks in the economic crisis.

The remarks last week by minister Yannis Stournaras caused anger in a country where many accuse politicians of being out of touch with the reality of Greeks struggling to get by during their country’s worst economic crisis since World War Two.

Dozens of workers marched with the food towards the finance ministry on the main Syntagma square, carrying placards with a photo of Stournaras above images of homeless people sleeping rough in the street.

“For Stournaras’s mummy, damn it!” the placards said.

One woman held a basket with German sausages, claiming they were sent by Wolfgang Schaeuble, finance minister of Germany, Greece’s biggest creditor under a 240-billion-euro bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund which saved it from financial collapse.

Police blocked the protesters from reaching the building.

The workers’ trade union said the protest was a “gesture of compassion towards a struggling family. We believe Mr Yannis Stournaras will appreciate this gesture and not ask for a receipt”.

Speaking on a talk show where he took questions from the audience, Stournaras said he could relate to what Greeks were going through.

“I know what it’s like to live on 500 euros (a month),” he said. “There are people in my family who live on very little money. My mother, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law. I know very well what this means.”

Greece was saved from bankruptcy in 2010 but the bailout came with painful conditions, including tax rises and steep cuts to wages and pensions.

More than one in four of the workforce are unemployed, homelessness is on the rise and many Greeks have had their incomes shrink and living standards plummet to levels not seen in decades. The minimum wage is 500 euros a month but some pensioners are living on as little as 300 euros.

“It is a reality that Mr. Stournaras cannot see,” Themis Balasopoulos, head of the union that organized the protest, told Greek TV. “Hundreds of Greek families are on the verge of despair.”

But the union said the response to the protest had been too big to handle, and asked workers to stop sending “solidarity packages” to their offices because they were overwhelmed. [Reuters]

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