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February 21, 2012

Greeks stage new protest on eve of Eurozone bailout meeting

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February 21, 2012

ATHENS: Several thousand banner-waving protesters staged rallies in Athens and Thessaloniki to protest budget cuts as Eurozone ministers prepare to approve a new 130-billion-euro bailout for debt-crippled Greece.
Hundreds of police shadowed the latest demonstrations, held a week after parliament passed new austerity measures that sparked violence in which gangs of rioters torched dozens of buildings in the Greek capital.
A group of youths on Sunday threw stones and bottles at a cordon of riot police guarding the parliament building, who retaliated with bursts of tear gas. The police had earlier detained 60 protesters and shut down three central metro stations, a measure criticised by protest organisers as disruptive to participation.
“Poverty and Hunger Have No Nationality”, read one banner carried by demonstrators on Syntagma square outside parliament. “We Are Greeks, Merkel and Sarkozy Are Freaks,” said another, referring to the German and French leaders.
As the demonstrators chanted, Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos left for Brussels where he was to hold talks with officials ahead of Monday’s crucial Eurogroup meeting of Eurozone ministers, his office said.
A European source told AFP that Papademos would also attend the Eurogroup meeting.
About 1,500 people joined a rally called by Greece’s private and public sector unions, while about 2,000 gathered for a second protest sponsored by left-wing radical parties to call for an “uprising” against the government.
“We will come every day if need be,” said Xenia Amaricoulou, a drugstore vendor in her forties. “They up there (pointing to the parliament) should be aware we are not accepting any measures that would take us further down.”
“Why should we be punished for something that we haven’t done? I earn my salary, believe me, I don’t know whether our politicians earn a single cent,” she said.
A similar protest took place in Greece’s second city

Thessaloniki. Despite the harsh austerity measures demanded by Greece’s international creditors to stave off bankruptcy, an opinion poll found that 76 percent of Greeks backed the nation’s European outlook and did not want to leave the euro.
But it also found that almost 82 percent of Greeks blamed their governments for the country’s deep economic woes. The latest government measures include a 22-percent cut in the minimum wage, while pensions of more than 1,300 euros ($1,700) a month will be slashed by 12 percent, further adding to the economic hardship of ordinary Greeks.
“Everyone should take to the streets,” one protester, taxi-cab owner Gregoris Militis, 52, told AFP. “The measures are the worst thing that could have happened. It is outrageous,” said pensioner Christos Artemis. “All the people are suffering. Shortly we will be asking ourselves where the bread is?”
Unions reject what they brand “unacceptable demands” set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, saying they violate workers’ rights and collective agreements. But EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said Greece should focus on getting itself out of its economic mess.
“I wish the Greeks would concentrate on rebuilding their state rather than blaming scapegoats outside Greece for their plight,” Reding, who is also vice-president of the European Commission, told the Austrian daily Kurier.
The latest Greek cuts are aimed at reviving the nation’s moribund economy — which is battling a 350-billion-euro debt mountain — by making businesses more attractive to investors and reducing the size of the parallel economy.
The measures, which total 3.2 billion euros, were drawn up in return for the new bailout, which Eurozone finance ministers are due to finalise in Brussels Monday to try to save Greece from bankruptcy and a possible exit from the euro.

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