Greeks protest cuts on eve of bailout decision

Sun Feb 19, 2012 6:10pm EST
 
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By George Georgiopoulos

ATHENS (Reuters) - Several thousand Greeks demonstrated on Sunday against punishing austerity measures to reduce the country's debt, on the eve of make-or-break talks in Brussels on a 130-billion-euro ($171 billion) bailout to avert bankruptcy.

Greece hopes euro zone finance ministers will sign off on Monday on the rescue package funded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, Greece's second bailout since 2010.

Sceptics, led by Germany, remain wary about Greece's determination to shrink its debt mountain. Yet failure by Athens to service its debts next month would trigger a chaotic default that would send shockwaves through the single currency.

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos flew to Brussels for last-minute preparations as some 3,000 demonstrators massed on the capital's central Syntagma square.

Riot police shielded the national assembly, braced against a repeat of riots a week ago that saw buildings torched and looted across downtown Athens after a much larger rally involving tens of thousands.

"The austerity measures are really hurting pensioners - we can't just sit and take it," said retired state electricity worker Costas Xenakis, 70, whose monthly pension will be hit again by new cuts approved by Papademos' cabinet on Saturday.

Banners such as one reading "Down with the memorandum of hunger" bore testimony to the anger many Greeks feel towards a political elite that allowed the country over the years to rack up a national debt worth 160 percent of national output while the super-rich took advantage of lax tax collection.

Police said the protest was peaceful aside from some minor scuffles and stone-throwing at security forces as demonstrators started to head home.   Continued...

 
Riot policemen protect the building of the Bank of Greece during an anti-austerity protest in central Athens February 19, 2012. Several thousand Greeks demonstrated Sunday against punishing austerity measures to reduce the country's debt, on the eve of make-or-break talks in Brussels on a 130-billion-euro ($171 billion) bailout to avert bankruptcy.  REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis