Clashes break out at anti-austerity demonstration during Greek general strike

[As Angela Merkel of Germany says the troika (the group of 3 imperial usurers) should give Greece “another chance” to surrender to the social starvation and onerous debt repayment terms demanded by the imperialist system, the people gave this response in the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki. — Frontlines ed.]

DEREK GATOPOULOS Associated Press October 18, 2012

A pedestrian passes closed shops in Ermou street, Athens’ main shopping district as shopkeepers shut down for the 24-hour nationwide general strike on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. Labor unions in recession-hobbled Greece are holding another general strike against a new harsh austerity program, as European leaders beset by a deep debt crisis and economic stagnation gather for a summit meeting in Brussels. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece — Hundreds of youths pelted riot police with petrol bombs, bottles and chunks of marble Thursday as yet another Greek anti-austerity demonstration descended into violence, less than a month after more intense clashes broke out during a similar protest.

Authorities said around 70,000 protesters took to the street in two separate demonstrations in Athens during the country’s second general strike in a month as workers across the country walked off the job to protest new austerity measures the government is negotiating with Greece’s international creditors.

A 65-year-old protester suffered a fatal heart attack during the demonstration but efforts to revive him failed. The organizers of the protest march he participated in said the man had fallen ill before any rioting had broken out.

The measures for 2013-14, worth €13.5 billion ($17.7 billion), aim to prevent the country from going bankrupt and potentially having to leave the 17-nation eurozone.

Riot police responded with volleys of tear gas and stun grenades in the capital’s Syntagma Square outside Parliament as protesters scattered during the clashes, which continued on and off for about an hour. Another general strike in late September had also seen limited, but much more intense, clashes between protesters and police.

Four demonstrators were injured after being hit by police, volunteer paramedics said. The Health Ministry said two of the protesters were treated in hospital and that their injuries were not serious.

Hundreds of police had been deployed in the Greek capital ahead of the demonstration, as such protests often turn violent. Police said about 50 people were detained Thursday.

A similar demonstration by about 17,000 people in the northern city of Thessaloniki ended peacefully.

Thursday’s strike was timed to coincide with a European Union summit in Brussels laer in the day, at which Greece’s economic fate will likely feature large.

The strike grounded flights, shut down public services, closed schools, hospitals and shops and hampered public transport in the capital. Taxi drivers joined in for nine hours, while a three-hour work stoppage by air traffic controllers led to flight cancellations. Islands were left cut off as ferries stayed in ports.

PHOTO: A pedestrian passes closed shops in Ermou street, Athens’ main shopping district as shopkeepers shut down for the 24-hour nationwide general strike on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. Labor unions in recession-hobbled Greece are holding another general strike against a new harsh austerity program, as European leaders beset by a deep debt crisis and economic stagnation gather for a summit meeting in Brussels. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Athens has seen hundreds of anti-austerity protests over the past three years, since Greece revealed it had been misreporting its public finance figures. With confidence ravaged and austerity demanded, the country has sunk into a deep economic recession that has many of the same hallmarks of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

“We are sinking in a swamp of recession and it’s getting worse,” said Dimitris Asimakopoulos, head of the GSEVEE small business and industry association. “180,000 businesses are on the brink and 70,000 of them are expected to close in the next few months.”

Higher taxes expected to be levied in the new austerity program will destroy many of the struggling businesses that have managed to weather three years of the crisis so far, he said.

“In 2011, only 20 percent of businesses were profitable. So these new tax measures present small businesses with a choice: Dodge taxes or close your shop.”

The country is surviving with the help of two massive international bailouts worth a total EU240 billion ($315 billion). To secure them, it has committed to drastic spending cuts, tax hikes and reforms, all with the aim of getting the state coffers back under some sort of control.

But while significantly reducing the country’s annual borrowing, the measures have made the recession worse. By the end of next year, the Greek economy is expected to be around a quarter of the size it was in 2008. And with one in four workers out of a job, Greece has, along with Spain, the highest unemployment rate in the 27-nation European Union.

The country’s four-month-old coalition government is negotiating a new austerity package with debt inspectors from the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank. The idea is to save EU11 billion ($14.4 billion) in spending — largely on pensions and health care — and raise an extra EU2.5 billion ($3.3 billion) through taxes.

After more than a month and a half of arguing, a deal seems close. On Wednesday, representatives from the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, said there was agreement on “most of the core measures needed to restore the momentum of reform” and that the rest of the issues should be resolved in coming days.

Greece is also seeking a two-year extension to its economic recovery program, due to end in 2014. Without the extension, it would need to take EU18 billion worth of measures instead of the EU13.5 it is currently negotiating.

Athens hopes to get the next loan installment around mid-November. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has said the country will run out of cash by the end of that month, meaning Greece would most likely have to default on its debt and potentially end its membership of the euro currency.

Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki, and Elena Becatoros and Nicholas Paphitis in Athens contributed.

—————————————————————————-

Greek Workers Walk Out in National Strike to Protest Austerity

[Protesters threw petrol bombs at police officers in Athens on Thursday.  Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press]
By New York Times, October 18, 2012

ATHENS — Tens of thousands of Greeks joined a second nationwide strike in three weeks on Thursday, moving to bring the country to a near-standstill in a bid to show European Union leaders meeting in Brussels that fresh austerity cuts being demanded by Greece’s lenders would cripple society and further depress an already battered economy.

Protest rallies began peacefully but were disrupted when demonstrators broke away from the crowd near Syntagma Square outside Parliament and threw rocks, bottles and firebombs at the police, who responded with tear gas. A crowd estimated by the police at 15,000 thinned out. Some people had tears streaming from their eyes. A rally by the Communist Party drew 7,000 more people, according to a police spokeswoman. Unions said the turnout was about 40,000 people, double the official estimate.

A 65-year-old demonstrator who fainted in central Athens around 2 p.m. died after unsuccessful efforts to give him cardiac resuscitation, according to a statement issued by the director of the capital’s Evangelismos Hospital. The doctor’s statement did not confirm whether the man’s heart problems were provoked by tear gas, as local press reports suggested.

Greek media outlets reported that five people suffered minor injuries, while more than 50 people were said to have been detained during the demonstration.

Many demonstrators shouted at the rows of the riot police officers. “You’re criminals, selling out your country for 600 euros a month.” One man screamed at a group of officers. “Why are you doing it? Why?”

It was the latest in a wave of protests that appear to be gaining steam in southern European countries weary of austerity, particularly Portugal and Spain, where citizens have come out en masse to push against grinding cuts as their economies spiral lower.

The action comes as Greece’s so-called troika of lenders — the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission — press Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to seal a package of austerity cuts of 13.5 billion euros, or almost $18 billion. Those include new cuts in salaries and pensions as well as demands to streamline rigid labor laws that are seen hurting the country’s competitiveness.

The package, which is needed to unlock a $41.3 billion loan installment that Greece needs to stay solvent, has been delayed several times in the last two months as the government butted heads with the troika, citing concerns that those at the margins of Greek society, and the rising numbers of people who are falling out of the middle class, cannot take much more. Leaders hope to agree to final details of the austerity plan in coming days.

“Agreeing to catastrophic measures means driving society to despair,” said Yannis Panagopoulos, the head of Greece’s largest private sector union. “The consequences as well as the protests will then be indefinite,” he said.

About 4,000 police officers fanned out in central Athens and near the Parliament building, where clashes broke out three weeks ago during the last nationwide strike.

The strike disrupted transportation throughout the country, with the subway in downtown Athens closed for much of the day and taxi drivers halting service for several hours. Flights were grounded for three hours in the morning when air traffic controllers staged a walkout, joining other civil servants and workers in the private sector, including lawyers, pharmacists and doctors.

Many shopkeepers joined the protest by closing their doors to protest a drastic fall in income, a sharp rise in taxes and a plunge in demand that have cost thousands of businesses and jobs.

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.

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