World

Monday 14 July 2014

Riots hit Athens as 50,000 take to streets in anti-austerity protest

Renee Maltezou and Harry Papachristou

Published 27/09/2012|05:00

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As the rally ended, dozens of black-clad youth threw stones, petrol bombs and bottles at riot police, who responded with several rounds of teargas.

Greek police have fired teargas at hooded youths hurling petrol bombs and stones as tens of thousands took to the streets in Greece's biggest anti-austerity demonstration in months.

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The clashes occurred after more than 50,000 people marched to parliament chanting "We won't submit to the troika" and " EU, IMF Out!" on a day of strikes against a new round of cuts demanded by EU and IMF lenders.

As the rally ended, dozens of black-clad youth threw stones, petrol bombs and bottles at riot police, who responded with several rounds of teargas.

Police chased the protesters through Syntagma square in front of parliament as helicopters clattered overhead. Smoke rose from a small blaze in a corner.

The strikes, called by the country's two biggest unions representing half the four-million-strong workforce, are shaping up to be the first test of whether Prime Minister Antonis Samaras can stand his ground.

Police officials estimated yesterday's demonstration was the largest since a May 2011 protest, and among the biggest since Greece first resorted to aid from international lenders in 2010.

"We can't take it any more -- we are bleeding. We can't raise our children like this," said Dina Kokou, a 54-year-old teacher and mother of four who lives on €1,000 a month.

"These tax hikes and wage cuts are killing us."

Schools, hospitals, ferries and government services all shut down in a total walkout.

"The strike marks the beginning of what is likely to be a tough time for Samaras as demonstrations and industrial action heighten in the weeks ahead," said Wolfango Piccoli, an economist at Eurasia Group in London.

"Samaras should be mainly concerned about how much time he has left to tackle all these interrelated challenges."

Violent protests also broke out in Madrid as growing talk of secession in wealthy Catalonia are piling pressure on Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he moves closer to asking Europe for rescue money.

The protests occurred as Spanish 10-year bond yields have risen above 6pc for the first time since early this month as fears mount over political turmoil in the eurozone's fourth-largest economy and delays in its bank rescue plan.

The yield demanded by investors on Spanish sovereign 10-year debt jumped as much as 30 basis points to 6.04pc yesterday, the highest since the European Central Bank unveiled plans on September 6 for possible intervention in eurozone bond markets to remove risks of a eurozone break-up.

Resisting

Mr Rajoy has been resisting calls from influential domestic bankers and the leaders of France and Italy to move quickly to request assistance, but a series of events this week will drive him closer.

With protesters stepping up anti-austerity demonstrations, Mr Rajoy presents more painful economic reforms and a tough 2013 budget today, aiming to persuade eurozone partners and investors that Spain is doing its deficit-cutting homework despite a recession and 25pc unemployment.

Fresh data released yesterday suggested Spain will miss its public deficit target of 6.3pc of gross domestic product this year, as the central government deficit reached 4.77pc at the end of August, already higher than the year-end target.

By front-loading the reforms Mr Rajoy hopes to sell them to voters as home-grown rather than conditions imposed from outside. (Reuters)

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