By NATHALIE SAVARICAS
That’s enough, we can’t take it anymore.” That was the popular chant coming from protesters in Athens yesterday during the latest 24-hour general strike against the country’s austerity measures. Teachers and doctors joined bank employees to demonstrate against a new round of expected cuts as the cash-strapped country continued to negotiate new reductions in spending to help keep the economy afloat.
Several thousand demonstrators from the public and private-sector unions braved the heavy rainfall, gathering outside Parliament to voice their opposition at the latest proposed measures to secure a €130bn (£108bn) bailout package. Minor clashes broke out when protesters tried to remove a cordon near the parliament building. Police sprayed tear gas and at times clashed with strikers, whose anger intensified overnight when a further 15,000 job cuts were announced.
Since the onset of the crisis, the austerity drive has sent unemployment to a record high of 18.2 per cent and the country’s finances into a spiral of recession. Despite the deepening pain, crowds at protests have increasingly dwindled.
“People are scared and haven’t really realised what’s happening yet,” George Pantsios, an electrician for the country’s public power corporation, said. He has only been receiving half of his €850 monthly wage since August. “But once we all lose our jobs and can’t feed our kids, that’s when it’ll go boom and we’ll turn into Tahrir Square.”
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was scheduled to wrap up a new reforms package with party leaders that back his unity government last night, which will pave the way for more bailout money.
The conservative daily Kathimerini newspaper’s headline said: “Merkel and Sarkozy’s asphyxiating pressure.” It was a reference to lenders’ demands to axe another 15,000 civil servants by the end of the year and cut the minimum wage by 20 per cent.
The European Union and the International Monetary Fund said the measures are needed to restore Greece’s competitiveness and reduce its mounting €300bn debt.
Many in the crowds yesterday said the talks were being used as an excuse to squeeze extra revenue from the sick man of Europe and they fear additional cuts will only stifle any hopes of growth. “We’re already bankrupt. This new agreement will simply be our tombstone and the meeting will be the final curtain of this play,” said Corinna Panopoulos, a state psychologist who demonstrated outside the parliament building.
Ms Panopoulos, who is single and has two children, said she had seen her salary drop by a third and has moved in with her mother to make ends meet. Her sister, Christina, who works as a supply teacher, will lose her state job in June.
Another woman had been forced to close her business: “I should leave and go abroad for work, but I want to stay and fight because my country needs me now.”
The patience of Greece’s creditors is wearing thin as the financial woes threaten to spill into other countries.
UPDATE Feb 10th: Greece promises reforms, Germany complains