Greeks take to streets in protest against cutbacks
Tens of thousands of strikers marched through Athens yesterday in protest against austerity plans aimed at wrenching Greece out of a debt crisis that has shaken the eurozone.
Scuffles broke out on the fringe of the protest, with police firing teargas to disperse groups of youths throwing stones. "No sacrifices, the rich should pay for the crisis," the demonstrators chanted as more than 20,000 people marched on parliament in an otherwise peaceful protest.
A 24-hour general strike disrupted services but stopped short of bringing the country to a standstill.
Meanwhile, the socialist government hit back at European criticism of Greece's fiscal management, accusing EU partners of double standards and poor leadership.
The deputy prime minister, Theodoros Pangalos, said Italy, France and Belgium had used the same techniques as Greece to mask their true deficits to qualify for the eurozone. "You simply put some amounts of money in the next year. It is what everybody did and Greece did it to a lesser extent than Italy for example," Mr Pangalos said.
He said Germany was ill-placed to criticise Athens, given its behaviour during the Nazi occupation of Greece during the Second World War, and the looting of central bank gold reserves.
"They took away the Greek gold that was at the Bank of Greece, they took away the Greek money and they never gave it back. This is an issue that has to be faced some time in the future," he added. "I don't say they have to give back the money necessarily but they have at least to say 'thanks'."
Public- and private-sector unions, which together represent half of the Greek workforce of five million, want the government to scrap plans to freeze public wages, raise taxes and increase the retirement age.
"Today, Europe's eyes are turned on us," said Yannis Panagopoulos, the head of the General Confederation of Greek Workers. "We ask the government not to give in to the markets, to set people's needs as a priority and adopt a mix of economic and social policies that won't lead to recession but jobs," he told the rally.
The strike coincided with a visit by EU officials assessing whether Greece was on track to cut its spiralling public deficit of 12.7pc, more than four times higher than rules allow.
The government has pledged to cut this to 8.7pc this year, and to reduce its huge national debt.