The Spokesman-Review

Greece faces more anti-austerity strikes, protests

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A fresh wave of anti-austerity strikes hit Greece Wednesday as the leaders of the governing coalition struggled to finalize further spending cuts for the coming two years — without which the country will lose its vital rescue loans.

State hospital doctors, school teachers and local authority employees walked off the job Wednesday to protest planned salary and funding cuts under a new €11.5 billion ($14.7 billion) austerity package.

Hundreds of local authority workers, beating drums and carrying banners reading “No to the financial collapse of local authorities” and “We will not pay for the crisis, we did not create it,” marched to the Finance Ministry in central Athens. Among them were several mayors, including the capital’s Giorgos Kaminis.

Hospital doctors and teachers from state kindergartens to secondary schools were planning a separate demonstration later. Serving and retired military officers were to hold a very rare march in the afternoon too.

Debt-crippled Greece has depended since May 2010 on international rescue loans, granted by its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, in return for a deeply unpopular austerity program. In addition to the previous cutbacks, Athens must now decide how to cut the €11.5 billion as demanded by the country’s creditors.

Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is fighting an uphill struggle on two fronts. As well as getting the support of his center-left coalition partners, he has to get the approval of debt inspectors.

Until the measures are approved by the EU, IMF and European Central Bank, the so-called troika, Greece will not get its next desperately-needed loan installment — some €31 billion ($39.6 billion) whose payment has already been delayed for months.

That money will be used to recapitalize the hard-hit banking system and pay off debts to contractors and suppliers, including pharmacists who for more than a week have refused to give credit to the country’s main healthcare fund. As a result, some 9 million Greeks face paying the full cost of their medicine, which is normally heavily subsidized.

So far, Samaras hasn’t managed to get his coalition partners to sign off on the proposed measures. Samaras will hold a new meeting with the heads of the Socialist PASOK and Democratic Left parties on Wednesday evening.

Earlier, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras will have further negotiations with the visiting debt inspectors, who have rejected part of the government’s proposals.

The cutbacks are expected to include further cuts in pensions and public sector salaries. A Democratic Left statement said the troika is also seeking an increase in the retirement age, from 65 to 67, and public sector sackings. The party said it rejects those ideas, as well as proposed reductions in disability benefits, public transport ticket increases and across-the-board pension cuts.

PASOK has also ruled out several of the proposals, which have to be approved in Parliament.

The new cuts have deeply angered unions, which have held a string of strikes and often violent protests over the past two and a half years of Greece’s acute financial crisis, that have seen a deepening recession and record high unemployment.

Unions say they are planning a new general strike in the near future, while the austerity program has triggered protests this month by police, firefighters and judges.

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