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POLITICAL ECONOMY
Greek anger over austerity not abating
by Staff Writers
Athens, Greece (UPI) Oct 19, 2012


disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

Greek anger over the European Union-led austerity plans being enforced by the government shows no sign of abating as one tragedy after another unfolds in the streets of Athens.

The country's newly dispossessed, far from obtaining redress, are collecting court convictions in clashes with police, adding to hardship that cuts through classes of various income groups.

Law enforcement agents trying to contain angry protesters fired tear gas in response to some petrol bombs and other projectiles thrown at them during a large rally in central Athens.

The national strike Thursday coincided with European Union summit talks in Brussels to decide the next aid payment to Greece.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' plans to change labor conditions and cut wages have met with condemnation and angry responses from Greeks across the social spectrum.

In clashes in and around Syntagma Square, in front of Parliament, police also used stun grenades, which have sparked an angry controversy.

A 65-year-old man died, reportedly of a heart attack, during the violent clashes, but authorities are keen to report the death separate from riot casualties, in spite of the use of potent riot control equipment including the tear gas and stun grenades.

It was the second such death related to street protests in a year. Last year, a 53-year-old builder died of a heart attack at another protest, but law enforcement agencies denied the death was linked to the use of teargas or stun grenades.

Several protesters were injured and there were likely police injuries, too, as witnesses saw some protesters throwing stones, including pieces of marble and other debris from archaeological sites.

The broad, tree-lined square was again a scene of a bitter stand-off between protesters and police. Some critics have likened the situation to a tragedy as the law enforcement agencies are also facing cutbacks and the youthful enforcers of the law face families divided by the country's sweeping economic deprivation.

The protests began Thursday in response to strike calls that some media also joined, affecting news coverage by some outlets.

Around 70,000 people assembled in central Athens and protests also took place in other Greek cities. About 17,000 protesters took to the streets of Thessaloniki, Greece's second biggest city.

Despite rising rage most protesters have abstained from violence but news media reports said it could have have been much worse.

The news media are awash with stories of hardship and multiplying tragedies.

In April a senior Greek citizen shot himself dead in Syntagma Square after admitting to shame and fear over his endless search for food in the rubbish bins near the square's high-end hotels and fashionable stores.

The man was identified as a 77-year-old retired pharmacist whose suicide caused widespread grief across the nation.

At least five people are known to have died in various demonstrations in Greece since 2010. In May 2010, three people died during a fire at a bank that began during a demonstration.

Officials remain coy about the impact of the austerity program both in the public sector and the industry.

Tens of thousands of businesses have collapsed, thousands more are struggling to survive and independent forecasts say more business shutdowns are on the way.

The country's trio of lenders -- the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission -- want Samaras to implement austerity cuts amounting to 13.5 billion euros (about $18 billion), including wage and pension cuts, as well as demands to streamline labor laws seen as hurting the country's competitiveness.

The lenders say the package is needed to free up a 31.5 billion euro loan (about $41.29 billion) Greece needs to stay solvent.

"Agreeing to catastrophic measures means driving society to despair," said Yannis Panagopoulos, leader of Greece's largest private-sector union. "The consequences as well as the protests will then be indefinite."

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