Police cordoned off areas around government buildings in Athens in preparation for possible violence. Extra officers were also called for crowd control during the demonstrations.The protests are expected to continue throughout the week, culminating on Wednesday to coincide with a parliamentary vote on the new austerity measures. The new round of budget cuts the Greek parliament will vote on Wednesday has enraged a population already exhausted by economic belt-tightening. Athens is currently debating measures that aim to allay bankruptcy through some $17 billion in cuts by 2016.
The Greek government remains divided over the issue, with the Democratic Left Party that comprises one-third of the governing coalition refusing to back the measures. The second-largest member of the union government, Pasok, has also seen dissension in its ranks, with several MPs refusing to back the package.
The measures stipulate a two-year increase in the Greek retirement age to 67, and several tax hikes. The new package also includes provisions making it easier to fire civil servants, which has provoked the ire of public workers amid a current unemployment rate of over 25 percent. The austerity package is required for Greece to qualify for a bailout loan from the ‘Troika’ – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Previous austerity measures slowed Greece’s economy, shrinking its economy by one-fifth since the financial downturn began in 2007. The outlook for 2013 is bleaker still, with the country’s debt at 189 percent of GDP and further austerity looking increasingly likely. The Greek capital has seen numerous protests over the past months, with Athenians rallying against austerity they criticize as bringing the country perilously close to collapse. Anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece have frequently turned violent, leading to clashes between police and disgruntled youths.
Protesters from the communist-affiliated trade union PAME march outside the parliament during a rally in central Athens November 6, 2012. (Reuters/John Kolesidis)