Greece: Mass anti-austerity march meets Merkel

Issue 

At least 50,000 protesters rallied in Athens on October 9 to tell visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel she was not welcome.

Thousands of police officers cordoned off whole sectors of the city to prevent demonstrators embarassing Merkel, though police still detained more than 50 people during the day. Even in unrestricted areas pedestrians were stopped and searched.

But the crowds made their message clear, gathering outside parliament and chanting: “History is written by the disobedient.”

As leader of the European Union's biggest economy and an outspoken champion of its assault on public spending across the continent, Merkel is widely blamed in Greece for the government's austerity program and the deepening recession.

Even special forces reservists were on the streets ― with a contingent in uniform chanting “Merkel out of Greece” in time to their march.

Navy Seal reservist Giorgos Drakopoulos said: “All the Greek people must rally together to rid the country of those who oppress and humiliate us.”

Since 2008 the Greek economy has shrunk by more than a fifth. But the German chancellor insisted austerity was working.

“Much of the ground has been covered,” she said after talks with Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. “There is daily progress.”

But Merkel added that further budget cuts “should be seen through. Otherwise it would make the circumstances even more dramatic later on.”

Samaras said that Greeks were proud “and know how to welcome a friend. We welcome a friend today.”

The massed security forces separating his countryfolk from Merkel implied otherwise.

The day before, Greek police charged 18 trade unionists with breaching the peace for occupying a state electricity company building.

Members of the GENOP electric workers' union occupied a data centre on October 7 and unfurled a banner reading “We resist” as part of protests against a new property tax collected through electricity bills, with those unable to pay having their power cut.

They were dragged out by riot police, who stormed the building.

The trade unionists have been released pending trial. If convicted they could face months in jail.

Union president Nikos Fotopoulos, who led the occupation, said: “No matter how many times they arrest us we will not bow our heads.”

The union is also fighting plans to lay off staff and slash wages. It has vowed “rolling 48-hour power strikes” if the latest round of austerity measures is forced through parliament to appease the “troika” ― the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The three have demanded deep cuts to welfare, pensions, public services and wages in return for a bailout to pay the country's creditors.

But talks over whether Athens's proposed budget meets their terms are continuing, despite the government planning to cut public spending by 13.5 billion euros (almost $17 billion).

Eurozone finance ministers gathered in Luxembourg to launch the European Stability Mechanism ― a 500 billion bailout fund ― said they didn't know if a Greek budget deal would be approved soon.

[Reprinted from Morning Star.]

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