May 19, 2013
Greeks rally in anti-austerity strike
Tens of thousands of Greeks took to the streets of Athens during a nationwide strike against wage cuts and high taxes that kept ferries stuck in ports, schools shut and hospitals with only emergency staff.
Beating drums and chanting "Robbers, robbers!" more than 60,000 people marched to parliament in the biggest anti-austerity protest so far this year.
The two biggest labor unions brought much of crisis-hit Greece to a standstill during the 24-hour protest against policies which they say deepen the hardship of people struggling through the country's worst peacetime downturn.
Representing 2.5 million workers, the unions have gone on strike repeatedly since a debt crisis erupted in late 2009, testing the government's will to impose the painful conditions of an international bailout in the face of growing public anger.
"Today's strike is a new effort to get rid of the bailout deal and those who take advantage of the people and bring only misery," said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the ADEDY public sector union which organized the walkout with private sector union GSEE.
"A social explosion is very near," he told Reuters from a rally in a central Athens square, as police helicopters clattered overhead.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's eight-month-old coalition government has been eager to show it will implement reforms it promised the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which have bailed Athens out twice with over 200 billion euros.
It has taken a tough line on striking workers, invoking emergency laws twice this year to order seamen and subway workers back to their jobs after week-long walkouts that paralyzed public transport in Athens and led to food shortages on islands.
Labor unrest has picked up in recent weeks. A visit by French President Francois Hollande in Athens on Tuesday went largely unreported as Greek journalists were on strike.
"Greece is making a huge effort to return to growth, to see better days, and when we're doing everything we can to attract investment, this image does nothing to help this effort," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told Greek radio.