Greek public-sector workers have started a 48-hour strike in protest at harsh new austerity measures agreed to by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in exchange for a 110 billion euro ($144 billion) financial aid package from the EU and International Monetary Fund.
Protesters, believed to be from the Greek Communist Party, unfurled banners in English and Greek at the iconic Acropolis monument calling on the people of Europe to “rise up” on their behalf.
“We want to send a message to the farthest reaches of Greece and Europe,” one of the protesters, Communist lawmaker Nikos Papaconstantinou, told Flash Radio.
The civil servants union ADEDY, which represents around half a million workers, held a demonstration in Athens. At least 2,000 demonstrators, mainly teachers and pensioners, marched through central Athens demanding that the government stop “stealing” their wages and pensions.
Airline schedules were disrupted on Tuesday after a decision by Greece’s Olympic Air and Aegean airlines to cancel 110 domestic flights. On Wedensday, Greek airspace is to be completely closed to international flights.
The 48-hour public sector strike is also expected to paralyze ministries and municipal offices, while hospitals are operating with skeleton staff.
The Greek government is set to vote on Thursday to fast-track an austerity bill through parliament, the finance ministry said.
Increases in sales, fuel, tobacco and alcohol taxes would take effect immediately. The austerity measures fuelling the discontent include raising the age of retirement and reducing wages for public workers.
“The Greek government remains firmly committed to implementing all necessary measures to ensure rapid fiscal consolidation and structural reforms for the benefit of the economy and of Greek citizens,” the finance ministry said in a statement.
Crackdown on corruption
However, Greek President Karolos Papoulias warned that Papandreou’s government would have trouble winning over the population unless sacrifices made by average workers were accompanied by a crackdown on corruption, which is estimated to have cost the economy 750 million euros last year.
“I am certain the Greek people will respond positively, but they need to be convinced that justice will be done, that tax evasion will be wiped out,” Papoulias said. “There must be a crackdown on everyone who enriched himself at the expense of the Greek people.”
Help on the way
Greeks have been up in arms for days at what they see as the harsh terms of the EU-IMF bailout deal. The first installment of the bailout funds should be available by mid-May, despite member state Slovakia’s announcement that it will withhold its share of the aid until after austerity measures are passed.
Athens is hoping to see the money by May 19, the day it is expected to pay 8.5 billion euros of maturing bonds on its debt.
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