Thousands of Greeks walked off their jobs on Wednesday and marched through central Athens in an angry protest against continued austerity measures being demanded by international lenders in exchange for disbursing bailout funds.
There were isolated clashes with police, but the demonstration was generally peaceful.
The strike was called by the country’s main public and private sector unions a day before the parliament is due to vote on reforms that would help unlock the funds from the 86-billion-euro bailout, the country’s third in seven years.
New austerity attached to the funds release includes the 13th cut in pensions since 2010 and a reduction in tax-free allowances on income. They come after years of cuts that for a time threw the country into deep recession.
Unemployment is running at close to one in four and there is a 48 per cent jobless rates among the youth.
A few domestic flights were grounded and public transport was disrupted throughout Athens. At least 15,000 people including pensioners, teachers, doctors and lawyers, marched to parliament as lawmakers debated the new measures.
Protesters held banners reading “No to austerity, yes to debt relief!” and “Bring back the conquered rights that you stole from us!”. They chanted “They talk about losses and gains and we talk about human lives”. Some of the demonstrators expressed anger at the coalition government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose leftist Syriza party came to power in 2015 promising to stop the cuts.
“They told us they would end austerity and tear apart the bailouts,” said Paraskevi Tsouparopoulou, 62. “Instead they brought us disaster.”
Clashes broke out outside parliament as the march ended. Police fired teargas at a group of protesters hurling petrol bombs and firecrackers at them. A small group of demonstrators were seen firing projectiles at police with what appeared to be improvised devices. Others held hammers.
Greece has agreed to the further spending cuts to end a logjam in talks with its foreign lenders, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, over its bailout progress.
Once the new measures are approved by Greek lawmakers — as is expected — euro zone finance ministers will then discuss the disbursement of the loans at the next scheduled Eurogroup meeting on May 22.