Street protests at cuts marred by violence

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Athens yesterday to protest a new raft of austerity measures being voted through Parliament as isolated outbursts of violence resulted in several injuries and arrests. More than 10,000 people converged on central Syntagma Square in the morning for a rally organized by the Communist-affiliated labor union PAME which ended peacefully shortly after noon. The union’s members joined a 24-hour strike called by PAME yesterday. Together with four-hour work stoppages called by the the main labor union GSEE and the civil servants’ union ADEDY, the action halted public transport services, closed down schools and disrupted hospitals. In the early afternoon, a smaller rally, organized by the country’s two largest unions – the main labor union GSEE and the civil servants’ union ADEDY – was marred by outbreaks of violence by demonstrators who squared up against riot police officers, throwing stones and other objects. Police fired tear gas to disperse them and the ensuing scuffles led to at least five arrests and seven policemen being injured. In one outbreak of violence, the leader of the main labor union Yiannis Panagopoulos was beaten by a group of rioters as he prepared to deliver a speech. Panagopoulos was led away by fellow trade unionists, bleeding and with his shirt torn open, and taken to the hospital, where he received first-aid treatment. Another high-profile protester, 87-year-old WWII resistance hero and former MP Manolis Glezos, was hospitalized with breathing problems after a riot officer sprayed tear gas in his face. The clashes occurred a few meters away from Parliament where the controversial new austerity measures were approved by the ruling Socialists and the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS). The main conservative opposition New Democracy and the Coalition Radical Left (SYRIZA) voted against the measures which comprise tax hikes and a 30 percent reduction in civil servants’ holiday pay. The Communist Party (KKE) boycotted the vote. «There is nothing to discuss,» KKE leader Aleka Papariga said before leaving Parliament. «Our response to these measures will be seen on the streets,» she said. In a related development, an opinion poll carried out by Public Issue for Skai Television showed that nine out of 10 civil servants object to the 30 percent reduction in their 13th and 14th salaries, as foreseen in the new raft of measures voted through Parliament. Of the private sector employees questioned, seven out of 10 said they objected to the same measure. The poll results came after a series of surveys indicated that between 60 and 70 percent of the public understood the need for drastic economic measures to revive the country’s economy. German chancellor douses speculation about financial aid to Greece German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday doused mounting speculation about her country providing support for Greece’s reeling economy, telling a joint press conference with Prime Minister George Papandreou in Berlin that Athens would not be receiving any kind of financial assistance from Germany. «Greece has not asked for financial assistance and, as a result, the question [of aid to Greece] is not being discussed,» Merkel said. Papandreou, for his part, sought to reassure Germans that Greece was able to handle its fiscal problems alone. «We are determined to tackle the problems we are currently facing alone,» Papandreou said. «We are not trying to transfer these problems elsewhere,» he said, adding that Merkel had offered the «moral support» that Athens is seeking. The Greek premier also referred to press reports in Germany that have lambasted Greeks as swindlers and cheats and indicated that these isolated reactions should not be allowed to damage Greek-German relations. «The Germans know the Greeks very well. Hundreds of thousands of Germans travel to Greece every year for their holidays, and they are welcome again this year,» he said. In a related development, the German mass-circulation newspaper Bild published an «open letter» to Papandreou which called on Greeks to follow the example of Germans and work harder to pay off their debt. Prior to his visit to Berlin, Papandreou had stressed that Greece was not seeking a bailout from the European Union or any particular EU member state but a commitment to a rescue plan that would reassure financial markets. Papandreou is to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy tomorrow in Paris and US President Barack Obama on Tuesday in Washington.

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