Greek Workers Protest New Round of Austerity Reforms

Posted June 28th, 2011 at 7:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Thousands of protesters clashed with Greek riot police on the streets of Athens Tuesday, the first day of a general strike protesting a new round of national austerity reforms.

The clashes took place in front of parliament, where lawmakers are considering Prime Minister George Papandreou's latest plan to raise taxes, cut government spending and sell state assets.

About 20,000 people gathered in Athens for the initially peaceful demonstrations that turned violent. At least 4,000 police officers armed with stun guns, teargas and batons fought the protesters, who hurled rocks and firebombs.

Authorities say at least 14 protesters were arrested, and that more than 20 police and nine protesters suffered injuries.

Lawmakers are due to start voting on the austerity measures on Wednesday. Greece must adopt the plan by Thursday to avoid a default on loans it received last year as part of a $156-billion international bailout, and to collect a $17 billion share of that aid.

Many protesters feel the $40 billion austerity plan imposes harsh penalties on workers and pensioners, while sparing the wealthy.

The strike, planned for a second day on Wednesday, has all but shut down Greece.

Transportation, schools and other services were closed Tuesday, as well as many private businesses. Hundreds of flights were canceled or rescheduled as air traffic controllers walked off the job. The air traffic controllers' union said airports would be closed for several hours again on Wednesday.

Christine Lagarde, the newly named head of the International Monetary Fund, called on opponents of Mr. Papandreou to support the austerity package, “in the spirit of national unity.”

Greece faces a debt default as early as next month unless it secures the $17 billion from last year's bailout package from the IMF and European Union. To qualify for the payment, the Greek parliament must pass the unpopular austerity measures.

EU officials have warned that Greece has no choice but to adopt the austerity plan, saying a default would be calamitous for the 17 countries that use the common euro currency and the broader world economy.