May 20, 2010

Greeks return to the streets, By Kerin Hope in Athens, Financial Times,May 20, 2010

Thousands of striking Greek workers took to the streets of central Athens yesterday to protest against cuts in wages and pensions made by the cash-strapped socialist government , writes Kerin Hope in Athens .

Demonstrators gathered outside parliament shouting "Come out, you thieves", a message that underscored popular anger with Greece's political class over the country's swollen budget deficit and public debt.

"We have too many [parliamentary] deputies and they have too many aides . . . This is where cuts should start," said Dimitrios Lainos, a retired civil servant, gesturing towards the parliament building.

The 24-hour general strike called by the country's two largest unions, ADEDY and GSEE, shut down state schools, public transport and government offices.

International flights out of Athens airport were operating normally after most civil aviation unions decided not to join the walk-out. "We don't want to cause any damage to the tourism industry," said a spokesman for the air traffic controllers' union.

It was the first large-scale anti-austerity protest since May 5, when three bank employees died in a fire triggered by a petrol bomb.

Riot police walked alongside groups of leftwing protesters. The communist-led union PAME, which has been accused of encouraging violence, stayed away. But protesters belonging to the communist-controlled seamen's union PNO prevented 7,500 tourists from disembarking from three cruise ships docked in Piraeus port.

Parliament is set to approve an overhaul of the state pension system this month under the terms of a €110bn (£95bn, $135.6bn) bail-out by the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund.

The proposed legislation calls for raising the retirement age to 65 for both men and women from 2013 and reducing pension payments.

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