Greeks to strike over tough new austerity measures


THOUSANDS of Greek citizens are expected to join a two-day general strike, which begins today, in protest at their government’s decision yesterday to endorse a tough new package of austerity measures with the country’s troika in return for a second bailout, worth €130 billion, next month.

After inconclusive late night talks with the leaders of his three-party coalition on Wednesday, prime minister Lucas Papademos finally reached agreement on an outstanding issue yesterday.

“The government’s discussions with the troika were concluded successfully this morning on the issue which had remained open for further elaboration,” a mid-afternoon announcement from Mr Papademos’s office said.

As part of a total package of €3.3 billion in cuts, the troika had demanded a reduction of about €300 million in supplementary pensions, a demand that was opposed at the Wednesday meeting by the centre-right New Democracy leader, Antonis Samaras, in particular.

But a New Democracy statement issued after the finalising of the agreement left it unclear as to whether Mr Samaras’s stance had resulted in any modifications and whether the cuts in supplementary pensions will go ahead.

The agreement, the final text of which has yet to be officially made public, must now be approved by the parliament, in a vote that is expected to be held on Sunday.

With the three parties backing Mr Papademos’s government numbering more than 250 seats, most analysis believe the vote will pass, although some defections cannot be ruled out.

The vote is expected to be accompanied by mass protests outside the parliament building, which overlooks Syntagma square in the centre of Athens.

With a general election tentatively set for April, the pressure on government MPs to defect will be considerable.

Yesterday, the government suffered its first causality to the new deal with the resignation of a junior minister.

Deputy labour minister Yiannis Koutsoukos, a Pasok MP, said in a statement that the troika had resorted to “blackmail” to impose changes on labour rights that were unconstitutional and in contravention of European law.

Another Pasok MP also said yesterday that he would vote against the agreement.

Mr Koutsoukos’s resignation came on the heels of new unemployment statistics that show that the number of Greeks out of work has crossed the 1 million mark.

The jobless figures for November showed that a record 20.9 per cent of Greeks are unemployed, an increase of 2.7 points on the previous month. Worst hit is the 15-24 age group, with a jobless rate of 48 per cent.