1,500 gather in new Greek protest on eve of Eurogroup meeting

AFP, Sunday 19 Feb 2012

Protests continue against Greek government following passage of new austerity measures, with 22 per cent cut in minimum wage and a 12 per cent cut in pensions

A protester hurls rocks at police during a violent anti-austerity demonstration in central Athens (Photo: Reuters)

Some 1,500 protesters gathered in central Athens on Sunday to protest deep budget cuts as the Eurozone prepared to approve a new 130 billion euro bailout.

The new demonstration comes a week after violent protests were sparked when parliament passed the measures, which include a 22 per cent cut in the minimum wage, while pensions of more than 1,300 euros ($1,700) a month will be slashed by 12 per cent.

"Poverty and Hunger Have No Nationality," read one banner, while another, in English, read: "We Are Greeks, Merkel and Sarkozy Are Freaks," referring to the German and French leaders.

One protester, taxicab owner Gregoris Militis, 52, told AFP: "People aren't taking taxis anymore except for emergencies. Everyone should take to the streets."

Greece's private and public sector unions joined forces to call Sunday's protest, rejecting what they called "unacceptable demands" set by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, saying they violate workers' rights and collective agreements.

The cuts are aimed at reviving Greece's moribund economy by making Greek businesses more attractive to investors and reducing the size of the parallel economy.

The austerity measures total 3.2 billion euros in return for the new eurozone bailout which eurozone finance ministers are to finalise in Brussels on Monday.

On Saturday, the cabinet approved cuts that made up a 350 million euro shortfall in the package.

A senior official told AFP in Brussels last week however that a 5.5 billion euro hole remains in the sums.

The second bailout deal would write off 100 billion euros of debt and provide a loan of 130 billion euros to Greece, which has already benefitted from a 110 billion euro rescue approved in May 2010.

For the Greek caretaker government led by Lucas Papademos, time is of the essence because without the bailout Greece will be unable to meet a bond repayment of 14.5 billion euros on March 20.

EU partners see Greece as the victim of chronic financial mismanagement by dynastic political forces -- what Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti last week called a "perfect catalogue" of errors.

Amid the deep scepticism, the new bailout has been likened to the aid equivalent of a hospital drip, with a small army of EU officials heading to Athens to make sure Greece delivers on its austerity pledges.

The Italian government said Friday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Monti and Papademos were "confident that a deal can be reached on Greece at the Eurogroup," after telephone talks.

Leftist parties have called a second protest in Athens on Sunday afternoon.

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