Gov’t options dwindling

Prime Minister George Papandreou chaired a gloomy Cabinet meeting yesterday, examining the debt-ridden government’s dwindling options as visiting officials of the International Monetary Fund reportedly increased pressure for additional austerity measures and thousands of Greeks took to the streets. According to sources, Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou, who has been in back-to-back meetings with officials from the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, told his peers that pressure was building on the government to herald new measures. Papaconstantinou said the officials were expecting to see changes in labor relations. It is thought that these changes would lead to a reduction of salaries in the private sector, mirroring cuts that have already been introduced to the public sector. Opinion in the government is said to be divided about the prudence of more austerity. Several top-ranking members of the Cabinet including Agriculture Minister Katerina Batzeli, Citizens’ Protection Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis and Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos reportedly oppose more cuts. Batzeli and Venizelos, as well as Labor Minister Andreas Loverdos, Interior Minister Yiannis Ragousis and Economy Minister Louka Katseli reportedly called for the immediate activation of the EU-IMF loans for Greece. Papaconstantinou, however, wants any additional measures to be agreed first before the rescue plan is activated, sources said. Anger at two waves of salary cuts and tax hikes and fears over the prospect of a new raft of measures brought thousands of protesters out onto the streets of Athens yesterday. A strike by civil servants, whose union ADEDY wants the measures introduced so far to be revoked, shut down public services, schools and left hospitals operating on emergency staff. Members of the Communist Party-affiliated labor union PAME joined a second day of strike action with protesters blockading the port of Piraeus for a second day. Participation in yesterday’s rallies did not exceed 10,000, smaller than some previous gatherings, but there are fears that anger is growing and that the introduction of additional measures will fuel unrest. ADEDY spokesman Ilias Iliopoulos warned that further demands by the IMF could trigger a «social explosion.»

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