Thursday, December 16, 2010

Greek protests against new round of austerity measures turn violent

Yesterday's general strike meant that much of Greece came to a standstill as public transport, trains, airports closed as did teachers, health sector employees and many in the private sector. According to Greek General Trade Union Council, GSEE turnout was nearly 100% in many areas.

The government's latest round of austerity measures which will see wages and benefits slashed in the near future has outraged many and is especially resented as Greek prime minister Giorgos Papandreou in the run up to November's local elections gave his personal pledge on several occasions that no such measues would be taken. The feeling that the ruling PASOK party have reneged on campaign promises made in last year's national elections as well as the latest local council vote is now deeply rooted and is likely to grow as the economic measures demanded by Greece's creditors take effect in the coming months.

It is a measure of the pent up frustration and rage that ex - minister Kostis Hatzidakis was beaten and narrowly avoid worse as he walked through the centre of Athens during anti-government demonstrations yesterday. While many Greek have nothing but contempt for politicians such an attack was unprecedented and seems to be the work of older protesters rather than more militant anarchist groups that often are in the front line of violent confrontations.

While the TV news bulletins have attempted to play down the extent of the violence in Athens and other Greek cities the reality of the situation is that clashes between the police and protesters are growing steadily more violent and the period of relative calm that followed the tragic death of three bank employees burnt to death during demonstrations in May has come to an end.

In Greece's second city, Thessaloniki about 15-20,000 marchers braved low temperatures to march in protest through the centre of the city, however, violence erupted when some groups tried to storm government buildings in Agiou Dimitriou St at which point police and marchers fought a series of running battles for over an hour with firebombs, rocks and tear gas being exchanged. The police once again used stun grenades designed for military and anti-terrorism operations to disperse crowds.

Stand off between protesters and police - Thessaloniki, Greece

Later a smaller group with approximately 500 people marched out to the general police headquarters to demand the release of 20 protesters who had been detained by riot police earlier in the morning. Among those releases were several who reported injuries including head wounds.

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