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Riots Engulf Center of Athens During 48-Hour Strike (VIDEO)

Riots Engulf Center of Athens During 48-Hour Strike (VIDEO)

 

“The centre of Athens has been turned into a battlefield” says the Guardian’s Helene Smith.

A 48-hour general strike is underway in Athens, with protesters aiming to prevent the Greek Parliament or Vouli from voting on a package of austerity measures demanded by international lenders before Greece receives a desperately needed 12 billion euro loan from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The demonstrations began peacefully this morning with unionists filling Athens’ central Syntagma Square but became violent after some protesters threw stones, bottles, marble torn from buildings and Molotov cocktails at some 5000 police, who fired back with so much tear gas that some people reported problems breathing. Small fires have been set, the windows of McDonalds and other shops smashed, bus stops and hotel entrances destroyed, one person stabbed and three policemen wounded and 18 detained with 5 facing formal charges.

Only the metro remains opened, with banks closed, hospitals operating with a skeleton staff and public services shut down. It being June, it’s the height of the tourist season in a country in which tourism is a huge part  of the economy. Trains, buses and ferries have all been shut down by the strike;  airports are shutting at intervals due to air traffic controllers walking out between 8:00 am to 12 noon and then from 6:00 to 10:00 pm;  a number of flights have been canceled at Athens’ international airport; protesters have blockaded the port of Piraeus which is where many cruise ships arrive at. The GSEE union for 2 million private sector workers saw 80 to 100% participation in the general strike. The ADEDY union, representing a half a million civil servants, also saw mass participation.

What’s at stake to cause such unrest in a country where strikes are so routine there’s a website with a schedule for them?

Currently 25 percent of Greeks live below the poverty line, says the Guardian’s Smith. Smith was present at Syntagma Square this morning and says:

Greek unions are basically hoping to highlight the mass opposition towards these deeply unpopular austerity measure here in Greece by taking to the streets in vast numbers today ahead of the crucial vote on the new wave of measures in the Greek parliament tomorrow. The hope is that they can really bring the message home that these measures are not going to pass, that they have brought ordinary Greeks to their knees, that after a year of stringent wage cuts, pension cuts, benefit losses, Greeks cannot survive with further cuts. …

Greek unions are basically hoping to highlight the mass opposition towards these deeply unpopular austerity measure here in Greece by taking to the streets in vast numbers today ahead of the crucial vote on the new wave of measures in the Greek parliament tomorrow. The hope is that they can really bring the message home that these measures are not going to pass, that they have brought ordinary Greeks to their knees, that after a year of stringent wage cuts, pension cuts, benefit losses, Greeks cannot survive with further cuts. …

I was in Syntagma Square, which has been the focal point of protests. Hundreds of protesters were streaming into the square but there was by no means the thousands of protesters we have seen in evening rallies. That is because there is a sort of ritual to Greek demonstrations. Protesters, usually unionists, hardcore unionists, tend to start rallies, take to the streets in the early morning, then they are joined by thousands of others who make their way in from across Athens.

The streets are full of riot police, helmeted, pistols, that sort of thing. The Greek government is quite nervous about the next tow days and has deployed up to 5,000 riot police in the city centre, mostly to avert the parliament building literally being stormed. Unions have vowed to stop lawmakers from entering the Greek parliament in Syntagma Square to they can physically stop the vote on these highly contentious austerity measures going ahead.

Photos of the unrest in Athens can be seen at Ethnos.gr and at the Guardian. This video shows the riots in Syntagma Square:

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou says that, unless his 28 billion-euro (£25bn) austerity plan is passed, the country will default on its loans and be literally broke. The vote on the measures is scheduled for tomorrow, June 29, and another vote to let the government implement them more quickly than usual is scheduled for the next day, June 30. Trade unions have vowed to storm the Parliament building and physically prevent the MPs from carrying out the vote, says Guardian. Fears that a Greek default on its loans could cause financial havoc through the EU, not to mention the “stability of the world economy,” as EU President Herman Van Rompuy says in the BBC.

If the Vouli does pass the measures, European finance leaders will meet on Friday, July 3, to discuss a second aid package for Greece, the second tranche of 12 billion euros in aid under the initial EU and IMF bailout the country has received. By July 15, Greece must repay 2.4 billion euros of debt, which it cannot do without the tranche. Another 900 billion euros of debt must be repaid by July 19 — and another 1.5 billion euros of debt on July 20 — and another 1.6 billion euros on July 21.

My own friends in Greece are mostly, like me, mothers with disabled children, are not at the demonstrations. It’s important to note that people (the Indignants, Aganaktismenoi, have been camping out in Syntagma Square for the past several weeks. In the Guardian, Zoe Lanara, from the GSEE workers union, sells the riots  are “terribly distressing” and that she thinks “the [austerity] plan will go through but this will not be the end of Greece’s troubles.”

Sadly, no, indeed.

Related Care2 Coverage

US Debt Ceiling, Greek Debt Crisis

Why Should You Care About What Happens in Greece

Greece’s Front Line Protest Dog – VIDEO

Photo of protesters in Syntagma Square earlier today by endiaferon.

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20 comments

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3:55AM PDT on Jun 30, 2011

The revolution cannot be stopped.

11:36PM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

such a gorgeous country with super friendly people and great food; so sad to see them in trouble; they have the right to fight and speak up.
I agree with you Marie W!

9:06PM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

Who do WE picket against to get our deficit paid?

7:28PM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

The Greeks like many EU citizens do not take things the way Americans do- laying down and being run over.

12:42PM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

Tina M. "The more people correctly informed...." That is where it is, and a lot more countries
are targeted by this group, for their natural resources, i.e. gas, water, bauxite, etc. anything that can be turned into money.
Well informed and extremely vigilant these targeted countries must be if they don't want to lose control over their own resources.

10:09AM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

Monkeynomics, CEO's being the monkey, has almost destroyed Greece, are we next, rioting in the streets? Anyway some states, N.Dakota and Oregon, I think are setting up state banks and cutting out commercial banks to some extent. Chase the *wallstreet* money lenders from the temple of capitalism and blessing will flow to mainstreet. It's a start, Greece should try it.

8:35AM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

Worrisome.

8:01AM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

This is just an attempt by the big Europen banks to Steel some of Greeses treasures at fire sale prices. The banks have created a lot of these messes and they should be forced to eat them. They knew Greese could not repay the loans at the time they made them so it should not be a suprise to them that they wasted their money and are now going to lose it. Wave your hands to the Bankers Greese and as See ya sorry and walk away.

7:38AM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

Tina M has written an excellent comment on the Greek Crisis. The huge majority of the people demonstrating peacefully are ordinary working class people and nothing to do with the small minority that vandalize anything in their path. I, like Tina, do not believe that some corrupt/incompetent politicians or corrupt people who have embezzled or evaded their taxes could possibly have brought the country to its knees. At first this looks very much like a Greek tragedy but the demise of Greece is something that affects all. One only has to investigate at what is happening behind the scenes to reach this conclusion. What are they planning for us? On a lighter note, as an animal lover myself, I cannot resist the temptation to salute "Loukanikos" the famous Athens riot dog.
What a sweetheart, barking and wagging his tail at the same time and being quite certain that he is with the people against the establishment!!! He is absolutely the cutest ever!!!!!

7:33AM PDT on Jun 29, 2011

Tina M has written an excellent comment on the Greek Crisis. The huge majority of the people demonstrating peacefully are ordinary working class people and nothing to do with the small minority that vandalize anything in their path. I, like Tina, do not believe that some corrupt/incompetent politicians or corrupt people who have embezzled or evaded their taxes could possibly be the only reason to have brought the country to its knees. At first this looks very much like a Greek tragedy but the demise of Greece is something that affects all. One only has to investigate at what is happening behind the scenes to reach this conclusion. What are they planning for us? On a lighter note, as an animal lover myself, I cannot resist the temptation to salute "Loukanikos" the famous Athens riot dog.
What a sweetheart, barking and wagging his tail at the same time and being quite certain that he is with the people against the establishment!!! He is absolutely the cutest ever!!!!!

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