Greek strike against austerity cuts halts public services

Protesters gathered in central Athens, with some later clashing with police. Picture: AP
Protesters gathered in central Athens, with some later clashing with police. Picture: AP
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Clashes erupted between riot police and protesters in central Athens during the first general strike since the country’s Syriza-led government initially came to power in January.

Youths broke away from a protest march by thousands of people as it passed the parliament and threw Molotov cocktails at police who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Nearly 25,000 people participated in three separate demonstrations in the centre of the capital, according to police figures, to protest against a new round of bailout-related tax hikes and spending cuts by the government of prime minister Alexis Tsipras. Another 10,000 marched without incident through the country’s second largest city of Thessaloniki.

The 24-hour general strike has caused widespread disruption.

The Athens metro and suburban railway shut down while bus, trolley and train routes were reduced and ferries remained in port, severing connections to the islands. More than a dozen domestic flights were cancelled.

The strike closed museums and archaeological sites, including the Acropolis, as well as state schools and pharmacies. Hospitals were functioning with emergency staff, while many privately owned shops also shut down.

Mr Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza party, which leads the governing coalition, has backed the strike.

Its labour policy department called for mass participation to protest “the neoliberal policies and the blackmail from financial and political centres within and outside Greece.”

Journalists also walked out, pulling news bulletins off the air except to report on the strike. News websites were not updated, while no Friday newspapers were to be printed. Lawyers, too, were scaling back their work.

“They’ve deprived every Greek of hope for the future,” said Katerina Kassimati, who works at a council nursery and was among the protesters. “We’re of a certain age. The children that are left behind have no future.”

Workers were protesting austerity cuts imposed as part of a third bailout – a three-year deal under which Greece will get up to €86 billion (£60bn) in rescue loans from its partners in the 19-country eurozone in return for passing a raft of spending cuts and tax hikes.