General strike brings Greece to a standstill as public sector closes down
Protesters flood into streets of Athens
By Helena Smith in Athens
Greece edged deeper into chaos as workers brought the country to a standstill with a general strike.
The closure of the entire public sector – from schools to hospitals to government offices – left Athens airport looking like a ghost town and kept museums and archaeological sites shut.
Anger was evident on the faces of the protesters who flooded into the streets. “We have no work, we have no money,” they screamed, denouncing the EU and IMF which have propped up the near-bankrupt Greek economy with rescue funds. “Erase the debt! Let the rich pay. There will, there can, be no more sacrifices.”
Nearly two years after Europe’s great debt crisis erupted beneath the Acropolis, the people on its frontline have clearly had enough. An austerity programme that has begun to resemble a bad dream of relentless wage cuts, tax increases, price rises and pension drops has crushed the middle class and sent poverty levels soaring.
Wednesday’s demonstrations, the biggest anti-austerity protest since June, were the “beginning of a battle” to eradicate further emergency belt-tightening measures announced last month.
“The government is behaving as if it has a pistol to its head,” said Stathis Anestis, a spokesman for the Confederation of Greek Unions. “It is not just that it is the poor who are forced to carry the burden of this barrage of measures,” he insisted, denouncing the terms of the €110bn (£95bn) bailout Greece received from the EU and IMF in May last year.
“It’s not just that all our hard-earned rights are being peeled away. It is that we wake up every day to another cut, another tax, another pay rise. No one can keep up!”