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Greeks Dig in Their Heels, Protest Against Austerity Measures

Riot police and demonstrators clash during protests against austerity measures in Athens, June 28, 2011.
Riot police and demonstrators clash during protests against austerity measures in Athens, June 28, 2011.

Police in Athens have fired tear gas on angry protesters in Athens. The street clashes on Tuesday came on the first day of a 48-hour general strike. These are just the latest episodes in an ongoing campaign by Greek citizens against their government’s austerity measures.

Gut anger is hurled into the Greek night air as protesters rally outside parliament to tell their elected politicians that they’ve had enough.

Both night and day, a community of protesters has also formed in the main square outside parliament.

They’ve been here for over a month now. Foula Farmakidi is one of them.

“I’m here actually because I don’t think I have any other choice than to be here. We don’t have any future so we have to do something about it,” Farmakidi explained.

They’re disputing cuts in public spending and tax hikes, which over the past year have weakened the welfare state and made many jobless.

They eat here, some sleep here, and most debate politics and economics.

It’s a form of peaceful and contained action.

But the outlook on the streets has at times been more militant.

Police have fired tear gas at activists, many of them young men throwing stones and fire bombs.

And trade unions play their own major part. They’re fighting hard with strikes and marches against cuts and government plans to sell public assets, including roads, water companies, and banks.

Ektoras Kavadias is the vice-president for the union of a Greek savings bank that the government wants to sell off part of. Workers, he says, shouldn’t have to pay the price for the government’s debt.

“It’s as if there was a party going on somewhere," Kavadias said. "Some people went to the party and had a good time. Then they left the party and sent me the bill. And I wasn’t even at the party.”

Greece isn’t the only European country seeing unrest.

Spain has been hit by a series of protests since May. In its capital, Madrid, protesters calling themselves “Indignados” took over a central square for a month.

And at the Bastille in Paris the French have shown their own frustration.

Iain Begg of the London School of Economics says people across Europe are suffering from austerity.

“And the reason you see riots in the streets of Athens, the protests by the Indignants in Madrid, is that citizens are trying to give voice to this objection to being blamed for it, saying 'it’s not our fault, blame somebody else,'” Begg said.

And while the Greeks continue their ongoing and angry objection, the stability of Greece remains on a knife's edge.

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