Greek Protests, Strikes Continue Ahead of Austerity Vote

Posted October 20th, 2011 at 4:20 am (UTC-5)
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Greek protesters took to the streets for a second day in Athens Thursday as lawmakers prepared for a final vote on new austerity measures needed to secure more bailout funds.

On Wednesday, 100,000 demonstrators converged on Syntagma Square, outside parliament. Rock and fire bomb-throwing protesters clashed with police, who fired tear gas and stun grenades.

Greece's international creditors have demanded Athens approve the austerity plan as a condition of securing another segment of its $159 billion bailout so Greece can avoid a default on its loans next month.

Majority Socialist lawmakers have already given preliminary approval to the plan that would raise taxes and cut government jobs.

Protesters took to the streets in other Greek cities Wednesday, as a continuing nationwide work stoppage left massive piles of garbage in cities, closed tourist sites and shut down government operations.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Frankfurt Wednesday to discuss ways to resolve the continent's debt crisis ahead of Sunday's European Union summit in Brussels.

EU leaders are considering a broad plan to boost the continent's bailout fund for debt-ridden governments, as well as stabilizing the continent's banks even as they are forced to assume bigger losses on the Greek loans they hold.

Greece's economy is mired in the third year of a recession. The country's jobless rate hit 16.5 percent in July, just below the record set in May. Young workers were the hardest hit, with two in five without a job.

Unions in another financially troubled country, Portugal, have called for a nationwide general strike on November 24. They are upset that the government plans more spending cuts, including on salaries for government workers.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho has called the country's financial state a national emergency. But Portugal was required to adopt the spending cuts and tax increases so it could secure its $108 billion international bailout earlier this year.