April 23, 2014
Greeks protest, almost half oppose austerity
Thousands of Greeks marched on parliament in a show of unabated public anger after Prime Minister George Papandreou vowed to push on with an austerity campaign that a poll showed half the country opposed.
In a move meant to stifle dissent in his Socialist Party, Papandreou on Friday dismissed Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, architect of a new five-year austerity program that has sparked weeks of protests.
The reshuffle coincided with a pledge by France and Germany to continue funding Athens, a move that may have bought Greece and its fellow euro zone members time to prevent a messy default, even if doubts over its longer-term solvency persist.
The European Union and International Monetary Fund have made the reforms a condition for a new bailout package worth an estimated 120 billion euros ($170 billion) that Greece, shut out of markets, will need to fund itself through 2014.
Around 5,000 protesters from the Communist group PAME marched into Athens' central Syntagma square -- where demonstrations turned violent earlier this week -- chanting "the measures are killing us!"
French activists also performed with a three-meter puppet depicting a bloodied figure of Lady Justice to rhythmic drumming, in a gesture of solidarity with Greek protesters who have camped in the square for three weeks.
"What has changed with the reshuffle? Nothing," said Costas, a 22-year-old student who has been camping on the square since the beginning of the month. "We are not planning to leave unless they take back the measures."
An opinion poll taken before the reshuffle showed 47.5 percent of respondents wanted parliament to reject the reform package and for Greece to hold early elections.
Just over a third -- 34.8 percent -- wanted it to be approved so Athens could secure the second bailout.
Constantinos Routzounis, head of pollsters Kapa Research, said Greeks were not against austerity in itself but thought the reforms were unfairly aimed at the poor while wealthy tax evaders and corrupt politicians got off lightly.
"People don't want Greece to exit the euro zone. They do want fiscal consolidation measures -- but more just ones," he told reporters.
Greece's biggest union GSEE, representing around 2 million workers in the private sector, called for a 48-hour strike when parliament votes on what has been dubbed the mid-term plan. The government hopes that will happen by end-June.