Greeks protest more reforms, peacefully

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Athens yesterday for a peaceful demonstration as public and private sector workers joined the latest 24-hour strike against the government’s austerity measures. The strike brought most public transport to a halt, shut down schools and left hospitals with only emergency staff. International flights were not affected as air-traffic controllers did not join the action to avoid aggravating disruption in air space over Europe caused by volcanic ash. But ferries remained moored in port as the strike was joined by seamen who prevented three cruise liners, carrying some 7,000 tourists, from docking at Piraeus. The police were out in force yesterday, with orders to quell violence of the kind that led to three deaths during the last strike on May 5 when rioters firebombed a bank. Officers detained nearly 100 people for questioning following pre-emptive checks in the central Athens neighborhood of Exarchia. There were no reports of skirmishes between protesters and riot police and the three rallies, organized by separate unions, concluded peacefully. The demonstration attracted tens of thousands of protesters – estimates ranged between 20,000 and 35,000 – but was much smaller than the May 5 rally that had drawn around 100,000 people. Yesterday’s protest also seemed less emotionally charged. Demonstrators chanted slogans such as «Thieves, thieves» outside Parliament – where a bill to reform the country’s creaking pension system is to be tabled next week. Unionists issued rallying calls to demonstrators to «rise up» against the reforms which they condemned as «outrageous.» But there were no tense standoffs or clashes. Officers closely tailed a crowd of demonstrators carrying flags in the red and black colors associated with anarchism but there were no scuffles. The pension system overhaul is part of a raft of reforms the government has committed to push through in exchange for a 110-billion-euro aid package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. An IMF spokesperson, Caroline Atkinson, said yesterday that the Fund is not waiting to see wage cuts in the private sector. «We agree with the government that there is no need to mandate cuts in private sector wages,» she said. «Of course, there is an issue of competitiveness that the government is addressing through a number of measures in its program,» she added.

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