By Alex Rossi, Sky News
Greece’s national strike has turned violent with demonstrators running pitched battles with the police in central Athens. About 200 protesters threw rocks, bottles and petrol bombs while riot police retaliated by firing tear gas into the crowds.
Greece has been paralysed by a 24-hour strike over new austerity measures being introduced by the government. Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is attempting to reform the country’s bloated public sector in the face of mounting national debts. His government wants to freeze pay, increase the retirement age to 63 and raise extra duty on fuel, cigarettes and alcohol.
Yannis Panagopoulos, head of the private sector union GSEE, said: “We ask the government to set people’s needs as a priority and adopt a mix of economic and social policies that won’t lead to recession but to jobs.” Civil servant Michalis Koroleos, 36, said: “I am striking against the wage cuts, I am striking because others stole the money and we are the ones who are going to pay. “They are cutting my allowances and I have two children to raise, it is difficult.”
The strikes have effectively caused the country to shut down – airports, schools, ministries and hospitals have all been hit. Greece needs to get its finances in order quickly. Its national debt stands at more than £275bn pounds, while its public deficit has reached 12.7% – four times the amount allowed under Eurozone rules.
This latest national strike is the second in as many weeks. Union leaders are warning there is worse to come if the government does not listen. The ugly protests on the streets will not calm the frayed nerves of the European Union. It is demanding even tougher cuts and is fearful Greece may default on its debt which would undermine confidence in the Euro further. The European single currency is already being buffeted by violent economic turbulence on the money markets.
EU leaders are worried if Greece goes bankrupt the contagion could spread to other larger and more important countries in the Eurozone, like Spain.