Riots erupt in Athens as austerity takes toll
Published 16/12/2010 | 05:00
A FORMER government minister was stoned by a mob in Athens as riots broke out in the Greek capital in protest at the government's austerity measures.
Kostis Hatzidakis, who is now an opposition MP, was left with blood pouring from his head after being chased and beaten by dozens of protesters.
He was set upon by up to 100 youths, who shouted "Thieves" and "Shame on you" when he emerged from the Greek parliament building on Constitution Square in central Athens.
Protesters hurled lumps of concrete and paving stones at riot police, set fire to cars and smashed shop fronts.
The violence in Greece erupted during a general strike called by unions to protest against new labour laws which unions say will give employers too much power and take workers' rights "back to the Middle Ages".
Greece is struggling to reform its economy under conditions set by a €110bn international bailout package, but many Greeks feel that they have ceded their sovereignty to the EU and IMF.
Protesters clashed violently with police in Athens. Air traffic controllers walked off the job, cancelling all flights to and from Athens International Airport. Public transport workers, whose salaries were cut by 10pc under a bill approved yesterday in parliament, will work on and off between 9am and 5pm to carry protesters to rallies.
While Prime Minister George Papandreou has reduced government spending and raised taxes, the reality of overhauling labour laws is biting hard in a country where the wage bill for state-owned employers often consumes revenue.
About 20,000 people heeded a call from the country's two biggest union groups to protest in Athens, according to police estimates. Some protesters threw fire-bombs at officers deployed outside parliament and at the Finance Ministry in the centre of the capital. Police responded with tear gas and flash grenades.
The IMF, which together with the EU approved a €110bn package of emergency loans in May, said on November 23 that Greece was at a "crossroads".
Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF's Greece mission, said the country needs to lower health spending, cut debt at state-owned companies and increase tax collection.
"You can tighten your belt up to a point and then you reach a point where fiscal austerity is self-defeating and I think they've reached that point," said Diego Iscaro, an economist at IHS Global Insight in London.
"Now they really have to concentrate on these kinds of measures."