|Greek riot police safeguard parliament building in Athens, capital of Greece, March 5, 2010. Thousands of Greeks march in downtown Athens on Thursday night during a demonstration organized by trade unions to protest the new austerity measures announced by the government. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
ATHENS, March 5 (Xinhua) -- The Greek parliament approved on Friday the second package of austerity measures intended to tackle the deep economic crisis, after thousands of citizens protested outside the building in the centre of Athens and the public sector nationwide was paralyzed due to a strike.
The deputies of the socialist ruling PASOK party which has a 160-seat majority in the 300-member parliament, as well as the 15 deputies of the far Right Popular Orthodox Party voted for the draft bill which contains the new round of measures. The main opposition centre right New Democracy party and the Left SYRIZA coalition voted against, while Greece's Communist Party abstained.
While the debate on the bill was going on, thousands of people participated in the rally. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou was visiting the Eurogroup's head Jean-Claude Junker in Luxemburg and later on Friday German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking political support.
The protest was organized by the two main umbrella unions of public and private sector employees ADEDY and GSEE, who warn the government with more strikes and demonstrations next week. The demonstration was marred by minor clashes at Syntagma square near the parliament between a group of a few dozens youths in black hoods and policemen who used tear gas.
Three citizens and seven policemen were injured, while 5 arrests were made as some protesters threw rocks and smashed windows of 5 banks, hotels and restaurants, said the police. Among the injured is the head of GSEE Giannis Panagopoulos who was attacked by a group of protesters while he was about to address the crowd. He was transferred to a nearby hospital for first aid.
Friday's four-hour stoppages in various public and private organizations and 24-hour strike in public transports, dozens of flights were cancelled and buses, subway, rail services shut, as well as most schools. Hospitals run with the minimum staff.
In one more symbolic effort to stop the implementation of the measures, a group of protesters occupied on Friday the building of the National Printing House, so that the bill cannot be printed.
"We will become their crisis," protesters chanted, holding banners and flags of ADEDY and GSEE who called for Friday's 4 hour stoppages, strikes and marches in Athens and other cities across Greece.
Nine out of ten public sector employees reject the cutbacks on the 14th salary and allowances, according to a first poll conducted for SKAI television channel which was published on Friday.
During the debate in parliament Greece's Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou stressed that the state cannot afford to continue like this, since public servants' salaries cost more and more, approximately 26 billion euros per year, an amount which has almost doubled in the past decade.
Among private sector workers, 76 percent objects to the measures. Some 68 percent of pensioners oppose to freezes of pensions for this year and 61 percent of employers believe that the measures are not in the right direction.
A further 62 percent expressed fear that there might be social unrest in Greece because of the economic crisis. Strikes and protests are not new phenomenon in the country. According to official police data and estimates by trade unions, on a yearly basis in the past decade there were approximately 300-350 demonstrations organized in the Athens center only, and the trend is upwards year after year.
|Greek riot police safeguard a bank branch in Athens, capital of Greece, March 5, 2010. Thousands of Greeks march in downtown Athens on Thursday night during a demonstration organized by trade unions to protest the new austerity measures announced by the government. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
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