Greece was hit by a new 24-hour nationwide general strike on Wednesday. The major anti-austerity mobilization came as further spending cuts aimed at tackling the debt crisis is expected to be finalized this week.
Thousands of Greeks suffering from cuts on salaries and pensions under the stability and reform program introduced two years ago took to the streets of Athens and other major cities across the country.
Raising banners and chanting slogans such as “Plan B: No to extreme poverty, yes to solidarity,” demonstrators in Athens participated in a series of marches organized by the two umbrella labor unions of private and public sector workers, GSEE and ADEDY and Left parties, which ended in front of the parliament building.
Minor scuffles between groups of hooded anarchist youths and anti-riot police broke out briefly on the margins of the main rally on Syntagma square on Wednesday afternoon, as it has happened in previous similar mass protests over the past two years.
The clashes marred an otherwise peaceful demonstration of some 100,000 citizens, according to union estimates.
The crowd dispersed as youth smashed bus stops, set trees on fire at the nearby National Garden and attacked police forces with rocks and petrol bombs who, in turn, responded with tear gas.
According to police sources and local media reports, three persons have been slightly injured and around 100 protesters have been detained.
However, the message the average recession-hit Greek demonstrator wished to send decision makers in and outside Greece, was hijacked as the scuffles erupted, some protestors told Xinhua.
Nina Doumanis, a teacher and mother of four children, was chanting anti-austerity slogans in front of the parliament. She condemned violence as a form of protest, but demanded a solution to tackle the crisis apart from the waves of cutbacks affecting low and middle-class Greeks.
“We do not have enough money in order to pay our bills and to feed our children. So if they take additional measures, we stop eating. It’s as simple as that,” she said.
Doumanis is entitled to a monthly allowance of 44 euros per child. According to media reports, the new 11.5 billion euro (14.85 billion U.S. dollars) austerity package due to be finalized on Thursday sees the end of such allowances.
Yannis Spyrou, an electrician working in the private sector, unpaid for six months, and father of five children, who participated in Wednesday’s protest along his four young daughters for first time, cannot accept it.
“I am here to fight for a better future for our children, because the present is uncertain and tomorrow seems worse,” he told Xinhua.
“Greece always survives. It is not in the interest of our lenders that Greek exits the euro zone,” he added.
Without austerity measures and rescue loans from European and international lenders since May 2010, Greece faces the risk of bankruptcy and an exit from the eurozone.
However, Greek demonstrators on Wednesday said under the burden of austerity and recession, many are already facing bankruptcy in their households and work.
Schools, courts, tax offices and archaeological sites shut down while hospitals ran on skeleton personnel during the strike. Mass transport system employees joined the strike, thereby disrupting bus services and air travel.