'Revolution is the only solution - in Greece nobody has a future'


VIOLENCE IN Athens marred the start of an unprecedented 48-hour general strike in Greece, as the country’s MPs began a two-day debate on a fresh round of austerity measures yesterday.

A total of 158 MPs have registered to speak in the debate ahead of tomorrow evening’s vote on a €28 billion austerity plan and €50 billion privatisation programme, the first of two knife-edge votes for Greek prime minister George Papandreou this week.

The second vote, on Thursday, concerns a law to implement the measures, which have sparked fury among the Greek public.

Greeks will see their tax bill increase significantly under the new tax regime.

A couple with two children and earning €20,000 a year, for example, will pay €840 more in taxes and levies – €640 of which represents income tax hikes and €200 the first payment in a three-year special levy that will be docked from salaries.

Property taxes are also set to increase, with the owners of houses worth more than €300,000 to pay a new €200 tax. Road duty is also to go up by 10 per cent.

As the parliament argued over the new austerity programme, thousands of Greeks took to the streets of the capital in protest at the measures, following a call from the country’s private and public trade union federations.

“Everyone has to demonstrate because in Greece nobody has a future,” said 37-year-old protester Elena Priovolou.

“I think revolution is the only solution, not just in Greece but in the European Union,” continued the unemployed film editor, who says she receives no state benefits.

The demonstrations remained generally peaceful until about 2pm, when scores of koukouloforoi, a Greek term for hooded rioters, began showering riot police with stones and bottles on Athens’s central Syntagma Square.

Police lines responded with tear gas and, in cases, stones.

Rioters, clad in gas masks and helmets, set dumpsters alight and rounded on a mobile telecommunications van which went up in flames.

A number of journalists, cameramen and photographers were also confronted by the rioters, who also attacked peaceful demonstrators.

After night fell, thousands of peaceful demonstrators returned to Syntagma Square to chant insults at parliament, as they have done every night for more than a month.

A large group listened to a concert in the centre of the square while, in the side streets, gangs of rioters continued to hurl rocks at police, who responded sporadically with tear gas.

Mr Papandreou’s European counterparts have warned that the payment of the next €12 billion tranche under Greece’s existing bailout mechanism, as well as the setting up of a new bailout package worth €120 billion, is conditional on both pieces of legislation being passed.

“They must be approved if the next tranche of financial assistance is to be released,” said EU economics and monetary affairs commissioner Olli Rehn as the Greek debate got under way.

“To those who speculate about other options, let me say this clearly: there is no Plan B to avoid default,” he continued.

Although in recent days four MPs from Mr Papandreou’s ruling Socialist Pasok Party opposed the new austerity and privatisation measures, intense pressure has been brought on them to fall into line by Greece’s new finance minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Yesterday, one of the wavering Pasok MPs indicated that he might vote for the package. Another, who objects to the partial privatisation of the country’s electricity company, hinted he may also return to the Pasok fold if the government makes some minor concessions.

Despite appeals from his European conservative counterparts and from Mr Papandreou, Antonis Samaras, the leader of the Conservative New Democracy party, is maintaining his opposition to the austerity legislation.

However, due to the unbundling of the implementation law, to be passed on Thursday, into separate components, Mr Samaras’ party may vote for aspects that it agrees with, such as the privatisation of state-run industries.