Greece: Thousands march in Athens as strike begins

Thousands of people are taking to the streets in Athens today as unions launch a two-day general strike against austerity measures.

Police said 17,000 people have gathered for two protests leading to Syntagma Square, outside Parliament.

They chanted slogans against painful austerity measures, which include reducing the minimum wage by 22 per cent and cutting one in five government jobs in a country which is in its fifth year of recession.

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Bailout creditors say Greece has not yet met demands for all the cutbacks. Frustrated by days of talks, they have given political leaders in Athens until the middle of next week to meet the full list of required austerity reforms. Otherwise, the country will lose its rescue loan lifeline, go bankrupt next month and likely leave the euro.

“We are experiencing tragic moments,” Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos told Parliament this morning. “These days are the last acts of a drama that we all hope will lead to a happy conclusion with a voluntary reduction in our public debt and implementation of a framework by 2015 that will allow the economy to stabilize.”

The Greek coalition government, led by Prime Minister Lucas Papademos had hoped some of the heat had been taken out of the crisis after leaders agreed Thursday to a raft of austerity measures they hoped would pave the way for the 130 euro sbillion bailout package.

However, finance ministers from the other 16 eurozone states put up a roadblock later in the day by insisting that Greece had to save an extra 325 million euros, pass the cuts through a restive parliament and guarantee in writing that they will be implemented even after planned elections in April.

A Cabinet meeting has been called for the afternoon, while the majority Socialists and the conservatives were later to hold party meetings to discuss the cutbacks.