The Athens Acropolis became the latest stage for the country’s financial crisis on Tuesday when protesters draped it with a huge banner calling for the “people of Europe” to “rise up” against austerity measures by the Greek government.
The most recent in a series of protests in Greece came just days after the government unveiled a series of budget cuts in exchange for a 110—billion—euro (145—billion—dollar) bailout package by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). About 200 protestors from Greece’s communist union unfurled the large banner from the stone walls of the ancient hilltop citadel, Greece’s most famous ancient monument, which looms over Athens.
The banner reads “People of Europe Rise Up,” in Greek and English.
Late Monday, at least 20 teachers occupied Greece’s state television station in protest against the austerity package that is set to slash public—sector wages and pensions, as part of 30 billion euros in cuts to the budget over the next three years.
Police officials said the teachers forced their way into the television station, clashing with security guards, and proceeded to stop a scheduled interview with Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou.
The teachers, the majority of whom work part—time, left the building after their demands were broadcast live.
“We are protesting the recent firing of more than 17,000 part—time teachers, and the government measures which seek to reduce the education level of the country to its lowest level,” a representative of the group said on television.
“We blame the policies of the government and the IMF and want it to leave Greece.” The austerity measures are set to target the country’s bloated public sector, which makes up roughly a third of the workforce.
Many Greek teachers work for years on part—time salaries as low as 450 euros a month, with no benefits, the teachers’ union said.
Greece’s Socialist government rushed to push a fresh round of spending cuts through Parliament on Monday in accordance with the terms of the bailout, despite the public backlash.
The budget cuts, which include tax hikes, public—sector pay freezes and pension cuts, are aimed at slashing the public deficit to less than 3 per cent of annual output by 2014, from 13.6 per cent last year.
Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said the government would scrap holiday bonuses — totalling two months’ salary — for public sector workers and pensioners, raise the retirement age for women from 60 to 65 bringing it into line with men’s, and raise sales tax from 21 to 23 per cent this year.
Greece’s main unions pledged more strikes in response to the measures.
In response, the country’s largest public—sector union, ADEDY, said it would stage a 48—hour strike from Tuesday, instead of the one—day strike it had announced for Wednesday. The union represents around 750,000 employees.
Hundreds of flights are expected to be disrupted on Tuesday after the country’s civil aviation authority said it would only carry out one flight per destination during the day. Greek airspace is also to be completely closed to all international flights on Wednesday, stranding thousands of travellers.
On Wednesday, the country’s civil servants and air—traffic controllers will be joined by private—sector workers who have called for a general strike.
Hundreds of armed forces personnel held a silent protest in central Athens to protest a 30—per—cent reduction in their salaries, while other professionals such as policemen, fire-fighters and coast guards are resigning by the hundreds in reaction to the news.
“I have been in this job for 31 years, and with these new measures I will be losing 6,500 euros annually from my salary,” said Dimitris Georgantzis, head of the police officers’ association.
Keywords: Debt crisis,