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Weary of Austerity, 50,000 Greeks Protest in Athens

Some 50,000 Greeks worn out by austerity measures marched through central Athens on Sept. 26 in the first general strike since the country’s coalition government was formed in June, as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras worked to finalize another $14.6 billion in spending cuts aimed primarily at workers, pensioners and the poor.
Bitter resentment against the uneasy coalition government and international lenders cascaded over into street clashes between some 3,000 police and protesters, primarily hooded anarchists who threw Molotov Cocktails as stun grenades and tear gas were fired in response. The demonstration was generally peaceful until then, but there was fury in the crowd too.
The protest in front of the Parliament brought together public and private labor union members during a 24-hour general strike after judges, teachers, police and uniformed military officers had engaged in demonstrations and work slowdowns while doctors and pharmacists refused to accept state insurance because they had not been paid for months.
Samaras is trying to present the budget cut package to Troika officials on Sept. 28 and push it through Parliament before a meeting of EU officials on Oct. 8 that could determine whether a delayed $38.8 billion loan installment, and a pending second bailout of $172 billion from the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) will be released. Without the monies, Greece could be forced into default, pushed out of the Eurozone and jeopardize the financial bloc of 17 countries.
Everyone from shopkeepers and pharmacists to teachers, customs workers and car mechanics joined the demonstration in a strike seen as a test of public tolerance for more hardship after two years of harsh spending cuts and tax hikes. Thousands of police deployed across the city center, hoping to prevent the violence that often breaks out during Greek protests. “People, fight, they’re drinking your blood,” protesters chanted as they banged drums.
Katia Poulake, 39, a lawyer, told the GreekReporter that she was there to protest plans by the government to liberalize closed professions such as hers, which could bring competition at a time she said her business has fallen off because Greeks have less to spend and are deferring legal actions. “We want a decent living and to make the government understand they made the wrong decisions,” she said.
Riot police used tear gas and pepper spray against several hundred demonstrators after the violence broke out near the country’s Parliament. Protesters also set fire to trees in the National Gardens and used hammers to smash paving stones and marble panels to use as missiles against the riot police.
Police officials estimated the demonstration was the largest since a May 2011 protest, and among the biggest since Greece first resorted to aid from international lenders in 2010. “We can’t take it anymore – we are bleeding. We can’t raise our children like this,” said Dina Kokou, a 54-year-old teacher and mother of four who lives on 1,000 euros a month. “These tax hikes and wage cuts are killing us,” she said.
Yiorgos Harisis, a unionist from the ADEDY public sector group told demonstrators that, “With this strike we are sending a strong message to the government and the Troika that the measures will not pass even if voted in Parliament, because the government’s days are numbered.”
(Sources: Reuters, AP)

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