Nationwide strike and demonstrations shut down Greece before austerity vote

Nationwide strike and demonstrations shut down Greece before austerity vote

ATHENS - Reuters
Nationwide strike and demonstrations shut down Greece before austerity vote

A woman shouts while taking part in an anti-austerity rally in Athens’ Syntagma Square yesterday. Prior to the start of a two-day strike, trade unions urged Greek people to fill the streets in an effort to stop the government’s new austerity plans. REUTERS Photo.

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in front of the Greek parliament yesterday and there were isolated outbreaks of violence as a general strike shut down much of the country ahead of a vote on a painful new round of austerity measures.

With memories still fresh of the running battles that marked anti-austerity protests in June, more than 5,000 police were deployed on the streets and the mood among the demonstrators was angry.

“We have no future here. All young people want to go abroad and they are right to do so,” said Anastasia Kolokotsa, 17, protesting outside parliament.

“There are no jobs, there is nothing here.”

Many young protesters were carrying helmets and by early afternoon there were reports of clashes away from the main rally involving masked, black-clad youths hurling Molotov cocktails at police who answered with teargas.

The 48-hour strike shut down government departments, businesses and public services, as well as shops and bakeries.

Some 150 domestic and international flights were cancelled.

Prime Minister George Papandreou, trailing badly in opinion polls, has appealed for support from Greeks before parliament votes on the latest measures which include tax hikes, wage cuts and public sector layoffs.

But after repeated rounds of austerity measures, hostility to the government and the international lenders demanding ever tougher action has risen to new levels. Unions urged deputies not to pass the law.

“If they have any humanity, decency, sense of pride and Greek soul left, they must reject the bill,” Nikos Kioutsoukis, a top official in private sector union GSEE which is leading the

strike with its public sector counterpart ADEDY.

With Greece’s stricken economy already on its knees, protesters said more austerity measures would only drive the country deeper into the ground.

“The dangerous slide in the economy and the society must stop,” small business association GSEVEE said. “It only leads to further shutdowns, unemployment, pauperization, wider deficits and even bigger debt.”

Apart from the rally, the streets of central Athens were eerily quiet with posters reading “We are shutting down for the day so that we don’t shut down forever,” plastered over shuttered storefronts.