Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Tuesday, 4 May 2010 14:24 UK

Greek strikers hit Athens streets over austerity plan


Protesters threw rocks at police in Athens

Greek public sector workers have stormed the Acropolis and scuffled with riot police after launching a 48-hour strike against austerity measures.

Their action comes ahead of a nationwide general strike on Wednesday.

The austerity measures were outlined in a draft bill submitted to the Greek parliament and will be voted on by the end of the week.

They have been introduced in return for a 110bn euro (£95bn) international rescue package agreed for the country.

The measures include wage freezes, pension cuts and tax rises.

Teachers in Greece invaded a live TV programme

They aim to achieve fresh budget cuts of 30bn euros over three years, with the goal of cutting Greece's public deficit to less than 3% of GDP by 2014. It currently stands at 13.6%.

Union leaders say the cuts target low-income Greeks.

"There are other things the [government] can do, before taking money from a pensioner who earns 500 euros (£430) a month," Spyros Papaspyros, leader of the public servants' union ADEDY, told Greek private television.

Dozens of Communist protesters broke into the ancient Acropolis at dawn, draping giant banners on the Parthenon temple reading: "Peoples of Europe Rise Up."

"We want to send a message to the farthest reaches of Greece and Europe," Communist MP Nikos Papaconstantinou said.

"Similar measures that eliminate social security are taken across Europe. But popular anger will rattle imperialist organisations."

Silent parade

Several thousand teachers and students marched to parliament, carrying black flags and banners.

The demonstration was largely peaceful. Some protesters handed red roses to riot policemen. But some scuffles broke out near the parliament building, with demonstrators throwing stones at riot police, who responded with pepper spray.

In other signs of discontent, on Monday a group of teachers forced their way into the main state broadcaster's studios in Athens to protest about education cuts.

What went wrong in Greece?

An old drachma note and a euro note
Greece's economic reforms that led to it abandoning the drachma as its currency in favour of the euro in 2002 made it easier for the country to borrow money.
The opening ceremony at the Athens Olympics
Greece went on a debt-funded spending spree, including high-profile projects such as the 2004 Athens Olympics, which went well over budget.
A defunct restaurant for sale in central Athens
It was hit by the downturn, which meant it had to spend more on benefits and received less in taxes. There were also doubts about the accuracy of its economic statistics.
A man with a bag of coins walks past the headquarters of the Bank of Greece
Greece's economic problems meant lenders started charging higher interest rates to lend it money and widespread tax evasion also hit the government's coffers.
Workers in a rally led by the PAME union in Athens on 22 April 2010
There have been demonstrations against the government's austerity measures to deal with its 300bn euro (267bn) debt, such as cuts to public sector pay.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou at an EU summit in Brussels on 26 March 2010
Now the government is having to access a 110bn euro (95bn; $146.2bn) bail-out package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Greece's problems have made investors nervous, which has made it more expensive for other European countries such as Portugal to borrow money.
Greece's problems have made investors nervous, which has made it more expensive for other European countries such as Portugal to borrow money.
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Also in Athens, some 150 members of the armed forces staged a silent parade to protest at having their bonuses cut.

The EU has agreed to provide 80bn euros (£69bn) in funding, while the rest will come from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The deal is designed to prevent Greece from defaulting on its massive debt.

However, it must first be approved by some parliaments in the 15 other eurozone countries.

Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said private banks were willing to chip in to to Germany's part of the deal, which is expected to be the largest individual contribution, at about 22m euros.

In return for the loans, Greece will make major austerity cuts which Prime Minister George Papandreou said involved "great sacrifices".

Measures include:

  • Scrapping bonus payments for public sector workers
  • Capping annual holiday bonuses and axing them for higher earners
  • Banning increases in public sector salaries and pensions for at least three years
  • Increasing VAT from 21% to 23%
  • Raising taxes on fuel, alcohol and tobacco by 10%
  • Taxing illegal construction

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