Monday, May 3, 2010

Widespread protests occurred Saturday against measures being enacted by the Greek government to reduce spending in order to reduce a severe debt crisis.

The capital of Athens was filled with an estimated 17,000 protesters at gatherings called by three separate political groups. During the protests, small groups of youth broke windows of several buildings, set a government press van on fire, burned trash barrels in barricades and threw rocks and firebombs at police officers.

Riot police arrested at least fourteen people and sprayed tear gas to disperse crowds. Seven policemen and two demonstrators were reported to be injured. Another estimated 5.000 people took to the streets in Thessaloniki.

The demonstrations were called to protest against government plans to cut major portions of the national budget in order to receive an estimated 120 billion euros in aid from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The government formally requested the activation of the bailout plan on April 23, 2010, after the cost of borrowing funds on the open market became prohibitively high.

About 9 billion euros in Greek government bonds will come due on May 19th; without the ability to borrow from the market, government officials had to turn elsewhere. The looming deadline, in combination with the recent uncertainty of the markets over the economic stability of Greece, Portugal and Spain, has put pressure on Greek, IMF and EU negotiators to work out the final details of the aid plan quickly so that it can go into effect as soon as possible.

Among the items to be agreed upon are the exact measures the Greek government is going to put in place over the next three years to cut its debt, and the precise amount of aid it will receive in exchange. The Greek Cabinet is to meet tomorrow morning to finalize the measures before the formal announcement at noon.

The cuts in spending are expected to cut both pensions and salaries to public service workers, while raising consumer taxes. Greek unions have opposed the measures and were a major part of the protests. A nation-wide strike in protest of the budget cuts is planned May 5.

A participant in one of the protests said that “These measures are death. How people are going to live tomorrow, how they’re going to survive, I do not understand.” Alexis Tsipras, of the Coalition of the Radical Left, opposed the budget cuts, saying that “The Greek people do not owe anything to anybody. Those who have brazenly robbed public money and pension funds should pay for the crisis.”

Greece’s Prime Minister, George Papandreou, however, said that the cost-cutting measures were inevitable, and that they were essential to the survival of the country.

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