Greeks protest against austerity with general strike
by Daniel Mason
Greeks are staging the first anti-austerity general strike in the country since Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his conservative-led coalition government came to power in June – a day after demonstrations marking public anger over spending cuts and a possible bail-out in Spain turned violent.
The 24-hour walkout is the first in Greece since February and is a protest against the latest €11.5bn savings demanded by the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank before the country can receive another installment of its multi-billion euro bail-out. Greece faces bankruptcy and renewed speculation about its future in the eurozone if it is not granted the next €31bn tranche of aid.
A survey by the polling firm MRB last week found the 90 per cent of Greeks opposed the cuts and thought they were a burden on the poor – at a time when unemployment stands at nearly 24 per cent and as a high as 55 per cent among young people. The new batch of savings are expected to come mostly from pension changes, wage cuts and reductions to benefits. Samaras has asked eurozone leaders to grant more time to meet the conditions.
A long-running assessment of Greece's progress by the troika of the IMF, commission and ECB are currently paused as the government attempts to agree the details of the cuts. Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde will hold talks about Greece today.
The strike, called by the country's two largest trade union groups representing half of the Greek workforce, will disrupt sectors including schools, hospitals, air traffic control, transport and government services. In Athens some 3,000 police officers have been deployed amid concerns that the protests could spark the same violence and rioting that erupted during previous demonstrations.
It comes after Madrid was rocked by violence last night when a protest outside the Spanish parliament turned nasty – with demonstrators tearing down barricades and police reacting by firing rubber bullets. Reports said dozens of people were injured and more than 20 arrested. Authorities put the number of protesters at around 6,000. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's centre-right government is due to present a new round of spending cuts on Thursday as it delays a decision over whether to formally ask for a sovereign bail-out.
The protests were a further blow to Rajoy after earlier this week Catalonia's leader, Artur Mas, called an early election for November 25 having failed to win greater control for the region over its tax revenue. Two weeks ago 1.5 million people marched on the streets of Barcelona in support of independence from Spain and Mas said the time had come to seek "self-determination". Spain's autonomous regions have been hit hard by the crisis and Catalonia is among those forced to ask the Madrid government for financial aid.
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