Austerity fight turns ugly

A former government minister was
stoned by a mob in Athens s 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 $147 billion international bail-out package
but many Greeks feel that they have ceded away their sovereignty to the
European Union and International Monetary Fund.

An estimated 20,000 protesters
marched on parliament. Christmas shoppers fled as rioters wearing black masks
and ski goggles hurled petrol bombs wrapped in bundles of firecrackers.

A similar protest in Greece’s
second largest city, Thessaloniki, also turned violent.

Greece was saved from bankruptcy in
May by an international rescue loan package. In return, the Socialist
government led by George Papandreou slashed pensions and salaries, raised taxes
and extended retirement ages.

Earlier this week, the government
won a key vote in parliament on new labour reforms that include deeper pay
cuts, salary caps and a reduction of unions’ collective bargaining power in the
private sector.


A bodyguard (L) tries to stop the bleeding from former conservative minister Kostis Hatzidakis after some 200 leftists attacked Hatzidakis with stones and sticks, shouting: “Thieves! Shame on you!” in central Athens.
Photo: BBC News

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