Debt Crisis: Greek protesters storm meeting, attack German diplomat

Reuters, Thursday November 15 2012

PUBLIC sector workers stormed a building where Greek and German officials were meeting in the northern city of Thessaloniki today and pelted a German diplomat with water bottles in a protest over austerity measures.Riot police used teargas and truncheons to break up a crowd of 250 city employees outside the building and formed a shield around German Consul Wolfgang Hoelscher-Obermaier as he entered.Protesters chanted “It’s now or never!” and held up mock gravestones and banners proclaiming “Fight until the end!”.They said they were furious at comments by German envoy Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, who told journalists on Wednesday that Greece could do more to reform its bloated local government sector, the head of the workers’ union said.

“Experts say that as far as local government is concerned the work carried out by 3,000 Greek employees can be done by 1,000 Germans,” Fuchtel said. On Thursday he said his remarks had been misinterpreted.

Fuchtel was appointed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel late last year to explore ways to boost grass-roots cooperation between the two countries, and has been lampooned as overbearing in Greek media.

His comments struck a nerve in Greece at a time when its lenders, the European Union and International Monetary Fund, have demanded layoffs and steep spending cuts in exchange for a second, 130-billion-euro ($165-billion) bailout.

At the Thessaloniki city hall, a woman who answered the switchboard phone said: “No one can talk to you now. They have occupied the building.”

A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said: “No one was hurt and there was no material damage. The meeting continues as planned and that’s what’s important.”

“SEND HIM HOME”

Municipal employees have held several nationwide protests and strikes in recent weeks against the new wave of budget cuts, triggering severe disruptions in public transport and causing garbage to pile up across the capital.

The head of the POE-OTA union of municipal workers, Themis Balasopoulos, said Fuchtel’s comments showed the government planned to push ahead with controversial public sector layoffs, about 2,000 of which are scheduled by the end of the year.

Unions and some politicians oppose the layoffs, which are mainly expected to target local government workers.

“We are here to express our deep anger at his absurd comments,” Balasopoulos told Reuters from the protest in Thessaloniki.

“We are not a democracy – we are under German supervision. If we had decent politicians they would have put him on a plane last night and sent him back home,” he said.

Many Greeks, worn down by years of austerity, blame Merkel for forcing the painful cuts in exchange for the bailouts.

In Germany, media have long characterised the Mediterranean state’s 11 million people as lazy, corrupt and ungrateful.

Tens of thousands of Greeks protested against a visit by Merkel to Athens in October and some burned Nazi flags

Reuters

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Meeting of Greek, German mayors stormed by anti-austerity protesters

Anti-austerity demonstrators throw coffee, pelt German consul with bottles

The Associated Press, November 15, 2012 — Dozens of anti-austerity protesters broke into a conference centre in northern Greece and clashed with police on Thursday to demonstrate against the presence of a German government official.

Municipal workers pushed and threw coffee on a German consul in Thessaloniki, Wolfgang Hoelsche-Obermaier, who arrived to attend a conference of Greek and German mayors. They later forced open shutters and entered the conference centre, where they clashed with riot police.

A German deputy labour minister who has been appointed special envoy to Greece, Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, was also attending the event.

“These people haven’t come here to help us, but to announce our death sentence,” said Themis Balasopoulos, leader of Greece’s municipal workers union, who was at Thursday’s demonstration.

The protesters chanted “Nazis out” and “This will not pass” as they tried to obstruct municipal officials from attending the conference.

Hoelsche-Obermaier said he was not upset by the attack against him.

“It was a misunderstanding. I am more pro-Greek than I was before today,” he told reporters.

Germany is the biggest contributor to Greece’s rescue loans and has been one of the most vocal advocates of the tough austerity measures demanded of Athens. As a result, protesters in Greece often target Germany in their demonstrations.

Last month, around 50,000 people demonstrated in Athens when German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid her first official visit to Greece since the country’s massive debt crisis broke out. She expressed support for the conservative-led government’s efforts to limit high budget deficits.

The Greek parliament last week passed a new austerity package that bailout creditors had demanded in exchange for paying out more rescue loans. The package raised the retirement age and cut pensions and raised taxes. It has also has eased restrictions on firing workers.

‘It is not you who should pay the price for this crisis but the rich.’—Annette Groth, German lawmaker

In a chaotic scene on Thursday, riot police chased protesters through the conference centre complex from building to building. There were no immediate reports of arrests.

The protesters played Nazi anthems over loud speakers, as well as Greek radio recordings from World War Two.

Left-wing German lawmaker Annette Groth joined the protesters outside the conference centre, where clashes with riot police also occurred.

“I have also been unemployed,” she told the crowd. “It is not you who should pay the price for this crisis but the rich.”

© The Associated Press, 2012

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