As talks between Greece’s coalition government and international lenders over a plan to cut $14.6 billion in spending remained stalled, and anger and unrest were growing, President Karolos Papoulias said the country has suffered enough and urged an end to what he called “merciless lashing,” and demands for more austerity.
Papoulias supports the pay cuts, tax hikes and slashed pensions being put forth by an uneasy coalition government led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, the New Democracy Conservative leader, but said enough is enough and there have to be some changes.
The government is aiming squarely at workers, pensioners and the poor to bear the burden again for cuts that Samaras admitted were “unfair and unjust” but said were necessary to keep Greece from defaulting and leaving the Eurozone of the 17 countries using the euro as a currency.
‘‘I think we have paid enough for our mistakes, and Europe must realize that it needs to help Greece,’’ Papoulias told a delegation of visiting Canadian officials. Greece has been surviving on a first series of $152 billion in rescue loans from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) but is awaiting a last installment of $38.8 billion as well as a delayed second bailout of $173 billion. But that money has come with insistence on austerity measures that have worsened a five-year recession, created 24.1 percent unemployment with nearly two million people out of work and is shrinking the economy by 7 percent.
Troika inspectors were prevented by protesters from entering the Labor Ministry to renew talks with Labor Minister Yannis Vroutsis for two hours and a government spokesman refused to confirm reports by state television that they were demanding even tougher measures, such as a freeze on the already reduced minimum wage and cuts in overtime and severance pay. The government is already planning to reduce lump sums due pensioners by 35 percent or more.
In a meeting with ECB President Mario Draghi in Frankfurt, Samaras said again as he has many times that the government is working to get the economy back on track although many analysts said Greece literally has no hope. Samaras and his reluctant coalition partners, the PASOK Socialists of Evangelos Venizelos and the tiny Democratic Left led by Fotis Kouvelis are facing a barrage of strikes and protests over austerity.
The country’s two biggest labor unions representing public and private workers planning a general walkout, while this week alone teachers, tax officials, judges and tourist workers stopped working. Greece, which is struggling through its worst recession since World War Two, must present a new plan to Eurozone finance ministers on Sept. 14.