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Greeks turn out for May day protests
ATHENS, MAY 1 (Agencies):
Published on 1 May. 2010 11:55 PM IST
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Greeks turned out en masse for May Day protests, which were largely peaceful with the exception of a few clashes by anarchists with riot police, but unions warned this was just the beginning.
The May Day protest was much larger than usual because of looming and very unpopular austerity measures that are expected to be announced Sunday. This will be a second and even harsher round of wage and pension cuts imposed by the ruling socialist party, which has been in power for seven months.
Policemen tried to escape a fire from a petrol bomb during riots at a May Day rally in Athens on Saturday. Angry protesters set fire to garbage cans and two TV broadcast vans as thousands of Greeks marched through the capital to protest against austerity measures.
“We will be pursuing an organized, massive and long-term struggle against austerity measures because they can only lead to a very severe depression and skyrocketing unemployment,” Ioannis Panagopoulos, the president of the private-sector umbrella union GSEE, said.
Debt-stricken Greece doesn’t have many choices and is likely to adopt the measures since they are a strict precondition for it to be able to access a multiyear €100 billion to €120 billion ($130 billion to $160 billion) bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The deal is expected to be finalized Sunday. Unable to borrow from frozen bond markets and strapped for cash to pay for a €8.5 million bond redemption on May 19, Athens is expected to bow to the inevitable.
The largest gathering on Saturday took place in the heart of the capital where GSEE and public-sector umbrella union ADEDY joined forces at Klathmonos Square. Separately, the Communist party backed PAME union also organized a protest in front of parliament.
“Between the three main unions, there were between 80,000 to 90,000 people that came out spontaneously ... but there were no episodes of violence,” said ADEDY spokesman Andreas Petropoulos.
Mr. Petropoulos said that “the protests are clearly aimed against the coming government measures and the ‘junta’ of the IMF-and it won’t stop here.” The orderly nature of the gatherings was marred by some sporadic incidents in both downtown Athens and the second-largest city of Thessalonica in the north.
Youth groups and anarchists charged riot police in front of the finance ministry and tear gas was used to break up the attack. A similar scene took place at the entrance of a luxury hotel in the center. In front of the Polytechnic university, anarchists threw Molotov cocktails at police, but the situation was quickly contained by anti-riot forces.
The demonstrations, even if peaceful, are likely to become increasingly common as public anger simmers to a boiling point. In a survey of 1,000 people conducted by Alco for newspaper “Proto Thema,” 51.3% of Greeks said that if new austerity measures are imposed, they would turn out to protest. Only 33.1% said they were resigned to accepting them.
Prime Minister George Papandreou said in parliament Friday that it was the only way to save the nation and that he would not put political cost above national necessity. He is appealing for political party consensus and for the understanding of citizens. “Give the government intransigency, we have no choice but to protest, so a social explosion may be on the horizon, even if we abhor violence,” GSEE’s Mr. Panagopoulos said.

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