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May 19, 2010

Greek Protesters Take to Street Again

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Athens and elsewhere in Greece in the fourth general strike this year against tough austerity measures to tackle the Greek debt. 

More than 20,000 Greeks demonstrated in Athens and thousands protested in Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki.  The general strike also shuttered schools and grounded ferry and train traffic.

The Greek government announced unpopular new cuts in salaries and pensions in exchange for a $135-billion package of loans to help it tackle its huge public deficit and debt.  Speaking in Beirut, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said the loans meant Greece would be able to honor its debt repayments.

"But above all, this package, this security, has given us the time to make the major changes and reforms we need," he said.

Papandeou also noted the European Union as a whole has come up with a last-ditch rescue plan for other struggling European economies worth about a trillion dollars.

But analysts and speculators remain uneasy about Europe's ability to handle its financial crisis.  Calls for tougher financial regulation by Germany and top EU officials have also gotten mixed reviews.  And U.S. officials have voiced concern that Europe's debt crisis poses a risk to America's economic recovery.  The general anxiety has translated into steep drops in the stock markets and the value of the euro currency.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel called again for tougher regulation, urging the international community to send a "message of strength."

Mrs. Merkel also said she would campaign for a tax on the financial markets at a June G-20 meeting in Canada.