GREECE PARALYZED BY VIOLENCE
Greece crisis: three bank workers killed in street protests
Three Greek bank workers were killed when mobs of protesters set fire to buildings in Athens as demonstrations against ‘austerity measures’ turned to running battles in the streets.
by Damien McElroy and Paul Anast
05 May 2010
Greek unions mobilised crowds of 25,000 angry people to march against the government in protests at the ‘austerity measures’ introduced to try to tackle the country’s debt.
Protesters threw petrol bombs, and tried to gain entry to the parliament building, eventually setting fire to the bank building with 25 staff inside, killing two women and a man.
Witnesses said the fire spread rapidly and clashes between riot police hampered fire brigade access to the building. “We took 15 minutes to get to the site because it was very difficult to get there,” said Panayiotis Falaras, a spokesman for the fire brigade.
George Papandreou, the Greek prime minister, lashed out at the perpetrators of the attack and said they had hijacked a democratic protest.
He said: “We’re a free and democratic country and every citizen has the right to demonstrate. To protest is one thing, to murder is another.
“The perpetrators of the violence will be arrested and judged.”
The violence broke out after the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who sought Bundestag approval for the 110 billion euro bail-out of Greece, warned that the “future of Europe” was tied to fate of Greece.
They are worst clashes Athens has seen since the country disclosed that it had covered up a black hole of £272bn debt.
Residents of the city voiced fears the violence would get worse in the coming days.
“It has been really ugly and tensions have been running high since morning,” said one Athens resident. “It’s really hard to bring this under control as over 25,000 people have marched in the streets of Athens against the bail-out package. The clashes are still ongoing. Nobody knows for sure how long this will go on.”
The bank building, located near the Greek parliament, housed a branch of Marfin Egnatia Bank. At least three more buildings were set on fire and 30 fire trucks battled the blazes. The violent protesters were eventually contained by police in full riot gear. Rounds of tear gas and pepper spray were fired into the crowd and smoke filled the area.
Masked youths threw petrol bombs, broke shop windows and shouted “Murderers” and “Burn the parliament”, in a sign of swelling public anger at the government’s plans for painful wage and pension cutbacks.
An austerity bill put before the Greek parliament this week forecast swingeing cuts totalling 30 billion euros a year.
Measures included expenditure cuts, including lower public sector wages and restrictions on pension benefits. Sin taxes on alcohol and cigarettes as well as VAT was pushed up.
Left-wing controlled civil servant unions and the rump Communists have spearheaded the demonstrations which have flooded the centre of Athens, a cramped district of hotels and offices in the shadows of the Parthenon.
Mr Papandreou yesterday condemned the conservative opposition, which had started fiddling the books while in power, for opposing the package and denying the country a united political front at a time when the markets were attacking its credentials. The reaction on the markets was sharply negative with a 6 per cent drop in the Athens Stock Exchange at the outset of trading and further euro weakness against the dollar and pound
Union leaders admitted that the worst violence the capital has seen since December 2008 when a young boy was killed, would damage the cause of the demonstrators.
“This is a day of mourning for the labour movement and for Greece as a whole,” said Christos Papaspyrou, the president of the Civil Servants Union.
“The rally was peaceful and sent out a strong message of solidarity that we must resist the excesses of the austerity measures. A small minority of senseless extremists are responsible for what has happened”.
Beyond the barricades there is widespread anger in Greece that the entire country will have to bear the burden of accumulated decades of corruption and mismanagement by the political elite.
“These measures are unjust and should be paid for by those politicians over the past 30 years who have led us here,” said Barbara Tzerbou, 37, a lawyer.