Police and protesters in Athens have clashed outside the parliament during the largest protest since financial turmoil began crippling the country. About 200, 000 people have taken part in the so-called “mother of all strikes” in Greece.
"Thieves!" and "That's enough!" read the banners of the thousands-strong crowd assembled in front of the parliament building in Athens on Wednesday. The police estimated some 70,000 people had gathered for a rally in the capital alone, while the protesters themselves put the figure at about 200, 000.
The multiple riot police forces gathered in the city for the occasion tried to stun the demonstrators with flashbangs. But the only effect it produced was the demonsrators booing every time they went off, as RT's correspondent Sara Firth reports direct from the Greek capital.
Eventually, some protesters, heated up by the standoff and backed by masked and hooded anarchists, started throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at the law enforceres. The police responded with tear gas.
Nevertheless, the protesters managed to push up to the steps of the Parliament building itself, which has not been seen since the outbreak of the financial crisis in the country two years ago. A sentry box occupied by the ceremonial guards was put on fire, while huge litter piles were burning all over the capital.
At least 14 police officers were injured in the unrest in Athens, according to RIA Novosti news agency. Some ten people ended up detained, while at least seven people were taken to hospital.
While most of the protests in Greece were passing off peacefully, police had to fire tear gas and throw stun grenades in Greece's second city of Thessaloniki, reports the Associated Press. There, protesters smashed the facades of shops that remained open despite the strike warning, as well as several banks and cash machines.
Clashes also flared up during demonstrations on the island of Crete, where more than 20,000 gathered to protest the vore, and the cities of Volos, Lamia and Patras, reports Reuters.
The 48-hour general strike started on Wednesday ahead of the parliamentary vote on Thursday. Air traffic controllers have walked out of their jobs for twelve hours, grounding some 150 of flights, both domestic and international.
Despite the public anger, the Greek parliament is still pressing ahead with another key vote to squeeze spending even further in a bid to stave off a catastrophic national bankruptcy. The new measures are expected to include more tax hikes and cut backs on salaries and pensions.
"Who are they trying to fool? They won't save us. With these measures the poor become poorer and the rich richer. Well I say, 'No, thank you. I don't want your rescue," Akis Papadopoulos, a public sector worker aged 50, told Reuters during the strike on Wednesday.
Still, the measures adopted so far by Athens seem to be bringing results contrary to recovery, though analysts would argue that the time elapsed is too short. In last two years, most average Greeks have seen their salaries cut back by more than 30 per cent. With unemployment hitting 16.5 per cent, the government wants to cut the pay of 30,000 civil servants as a prelude to their dismissal.
With that in hand, young people of Greece fear they have no future – and this is their message to the government in Wednesday’s strike action, reports Sara Firth.
Athens is eyeing a second rescue bailout package worth 109 billion euros ($151 billion), which was initially agreed with the troika consisting of the EU, IMF and ECB back in July. Greece still needs to demonstrate to the troika at least some progress in putting their balance sheets under control, otherwise the country may run out of money by mid-November. An EU summit scheduled for this weekend is expected to bring the final decision on rescue funds for Athens.
But in a situation when everybody is at war with everybody else, it will be hard for Greece to find its way, says Maurizio Bovi, the chief economist at the Institute for Studies and Economic Analyses in Italy.
“The flow of this crisis is determined by mostly individualistic behavior of politicians, bankers and taxpayers,” Bovi told RT.
The country is caught between severe opposition at home and intense pressure from foreign investors. Many analysts share the opinion that over the past weeks and months the eurozone leaders should have adopted a different option from the very beginning of the entire crisis, and that now there is no Plan B. There have been talks of a possible default for Greece. In the meantime, the people of Greece seem to have reached breaking point from the authorities’ severe austerity measures.