Friday, June 14, 2024
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Strike shuts down Greece before austerity vote

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ATHENS: A massive general strike brought Greece to a standstill on Wednesday and thousands of angry protesters took to the streets, while parliament prepared to vote on deep public sector cuts and riot police braced for violence.

Protesters began massing outside parliament as the day began and groups of workers assembled at rallying points throughout the capital before a mass demonstration later in the day.

Beleaguered Prime Minister George Papandreou has appealed for support from Greeks ahead of a vote later on Wednesday on tax hikes, wage cuts and layoffs demanded by international lenders who have been pressing Athens for tougher action.

Unions who have called a general strike to coincide with the vote say they expect one of the biggest labour actions in the two years since the start of Greece’s financial crisis, which now threatens to spread across Europe’s single currency zone.

The mood was hostile among the protesters. Unions, the opposition and some economists say repeated cuts will only drive Greece’s stricken economy further into recession. Many called for the downfall of Papandreou’s Socialist government.

”We want them out because they can only bring us misery. They are squeezing people dry,” said Dina Kolovou, a 46 year-old municipal worker.

The 48-hour strike will shut down government departments, businesses, public services and even providers of everyday staples like shops and bakeries. Some 150 domestic and international flights were cancelled.

Authorities said 5,000 police were deployed in Athens, with another 2,000 held in reserve.

Greece has seen violent clashes during demonstrations throughout the crisis, culminating in June with two days of running battles between rioters and police when Syntagma Square outside parliament was cloaked in clouds of teargas.

”With these measures they are killing us slowly. There will be war on Wednesday and I am going to take part,” said 75-year old private sector pensioner Dimitris Panagiotopoulos.

As the first groups began to arrive, thousands of students and young communists gathered in front of parliament, carrying banners with slogans such as ”Power to the People” and ”The government must fall now”.

Apart from the protests, the streets of central Athens were eerily quiet with posters reading ”We are shutting down for the day so that we don’t shut down forever,” plastered over shuttered storefronts.

Trapped in the third year of deep recession and strangled by a public debt amounting to 162 percent of gross domestic product which few now believe can be paid back, Greece has sunk deeper into crisis, despite repeated doses of austerity. (UNI)

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