Greek Govt Faces Austerity Strike as Default Looms
ATHENS, Greece — As the prospect of a disastrous debt default hung over Greece, the government faced strikes and protests Monday against its new austerity measures needed to appease the country's rescue creditors.
Athens commuters faced more misery as metro, tram and suburban rail workers were on a 24-hour strike, while buses and trolleys were to stop operating for several hours in the middle of the day. Airline passengers also faced delays as air traffic controllers implemented work-to-rule action, refusing to work overtime. A 48-hour strike by all transport workers is expected later this week.
Greek police held their own protest, with the force's Special Guards unit hanging a giant black banner from the top of Lycabettus Hill in the capital reading "Pay day, day of mourning."
Faced with mounting anger from the country's international creditors, the government recently announced a raft of new austerity measures to secure the next euro8 billion ($10.7 billion) installment of bailout loans from the euro110 billion rescue package it has been dependent on since last year. Without the funds, Greece only has enough funds to see it through mid-October, when it faces the prospect of a messy default.
In July, when it became clear that Athens needed more help, eurozone leaders agreed on a second, euro109 billion bailout, although several aspects of that deal still need to be finalized.
The government's new measures include a new property tax to be paid through electricity bills to make it easier for the state to collect, as well as pension cuts and more tax hikes. Lawmakers are to vote on Tuesday night on the property tax bill, which electricity company workers have threatened not to collect as they say the power utility should not be used as a tax collection system.
Greeks have been outraged by the new steps, as they come on top of previous austerity measures which failed to sufficiently reduce the country's budget deficit.
Hundreds of protesters gathered in the capital's central Syntagma Square on Sunday night, scuffling briefly with police who pushed them back with truncheons and small amounts of tear gas.
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Debt inspectors from the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank, known collectively as the troika, are expected to return to Athens this week to resume a review suspended earlier this month amid talk of delayed implementation of reforms. No specific date has been set for their return, however.
Prime Minister George Papandreou heads to Berlin on Tuesday, where he will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of a parliamentary vote there on approving plans to beef up the eurozone rescue fund. German lawmakers vote on Thursday on expanding the powers of the euro440 billion ($595 billion) the European Financial Stability Facility.