A far-reaching national strike against new austerity measures has left Greece paralyzed. Thousands marched in the streets of Athens Tuesday in protest against measures that unions say will sink the country’s already-flagging economy.
The 48-hour strikes have brought most of the country to a standstill, shutting down public transport, schools and air traffic control. Hospitals are also working with skeleton crews. Broadcasts and publications were halted until further notice as journalists joined the nationwide strike.
“About 10,000 people on Syntagma square right now. More arriving. All peaceful,” RT correspondent Peter Oliver wrote on Twitter.
The rally wrapped up peacefully. Police estimate up to 40,000 people joined in.
However, the day was marred by a fire engine got attacked with Molotov cocktails in the Athens district of Exarchia, local media report. The engine was heading to put out a car in Exarchia, which had been set ablaze earlier.
Police cordoned off areas around government buildings in Athens in preparation for possible violence. Extra officers were also called for crowd control during the demonstrations.
The protests are expected to continue throughout the week, culminating on Wednesday to coincide with a parliamentary vote on the new austerity measures.
The new round of budget cuts the Greek parliament will vote on Wednesday has enraged a population already exhausted by economic belt-tightening. Athens is currently debating measures that aim to allay bankruptcy through some $17 billion in cuts by 2016.
The Greek government remains divided over the issue, with the Democratic Left Party that comprises one-third of the governing coalition refusing to back the measures. The second-largest member of the union government, Pasok, has also seen dissension in its ranks, with several MPs refusing to back the package.
The measures stipulate a two-year increase in the Greek retirement age to 67, and several tax hikes. The new package also includes provisions making it easier to fire civil servants, which has provoked the ire of public workers amid a current unemployment rate of over 25 percent.
The austerity package is required for Greece to qualify for a bailout loan from the ‘Troika’ – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Previous austerity measures slowed Greece’s economy, shrinking its economy by one-fifth since the financial downturn began in 2007. The outlook for 2013 is bleaker still, with the country’s debt at 189 percent of GDP and further austerity looking increasingly likely.
The Greek capital has seen numerous protests over the past months, with Athenians rallying against austerity they criticize as bringing the country perilously close to collapse.
Anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece have frequently turned violent, leading to clashes between police and disgruntled youths.