General Strike Hits Greece as Leaders' Austerity Meeting Postponed Again

Anti-austerity protester shouts anti-government slogans in front of the heavily guarded parliament in Athens February 7, 2012. Alarmed by the prospect of yet more budget cuts, Greece's two main trade unions hold a 24-hour strike on Tuesday in protest against policies they say have only driven the economy into a downward spiral. (REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

General Strike Hits Greece as Leaders' Austerity Meeting Postponed Again

"Unemployment, poverty, impoverishment of the country: the fault of agreements with the EU, IMF and ECB"

Greece is being hit by a 24-hour general strike today amidst increased pressure for the country to accept further austerity measures imposed by the "troika" -- the IMF, European Central Bank and EU. Thousands of strikers are protesting the harsh measures they see as a "death sentence" for the country.

UPDATE: The Associated Press is reporting that the Greek coalition members have postponed again their meeting on cutbacks, leaving the meeting for Wednesday.

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Agence France-Pressereports:

Protesters vented their anger at their government, at yet another round of cuts to incomes, at the EU and IMF, and at what they see as a hard line spearheaded by Germany.

"No to public sector layoffs!", "No to to cutting the minimum wage!", protest banners said as thousands braved short spells of rain on Syntagma Square in Athens.

One group of protesters burned a German flag in front of parliament, and tried to set fire to one that portrayed the Nazi swastika, in reaction to calls from Berlin for strict budgetary discipline. [...]

"Unemployment, poverty, impoverishment of the country: the fault of agreements with the EU, IMF and ECB," another banner said.

Yesterday Greece had accepted the demand to slash 5,000 public jobs this year.

The Irish Timesreports on the urgency the troika sees for Greece to accept the bailout deal:

With Greece now in its fifth year of recession, the situation is increasingly urgent because the government does not have money to repay a EUR14.5 billion debt next month. The uncertainty has stirred renewed tension in markets, with European and US shares losing ground yesterday.

Greece is close to a deal with private investors to cut EUR100 billion from its debt but the creditors will not move without agreement on the new EU-IMF loan package.

Several deadlines have been missed already. The latest talks are seen as a last-ditch opportunity to ensure the debt restructuring process starts as planned next week.

"Decisions need to be taken and now the ball is in the court of the Greek authorities," said the spokesman for EU economics commissioner Olli Rehn. "There's a whole series of transactions and there's a whole lot of legal steps which need to be gone through. "We're trying to compress this into as short amount of time as possible but we felt that we should reach a conclusion some time [around] now."

Greek EU commissioner Maria Damanaki said contingency plans for her country to leave the euro if it defaults are under examination but she did not say where. A return to the drachma would result in an "absolute downgrade" of living conditions in Greece, she warned.

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