News / Europe

Greek Police Clash With Demonstrators Against Austerity Measures

Selah Hennessy
Clashes erupted between police and protesters in Greece on Wednesday, as citizens took to the streets to demonstrate against fresh austerity measures. The country also was brought to a virtual halt by a general strike.

It was planned as a peaceful protest, but within hours tension had risen on the streets of Athens. In dramatic scenes near parliament, police fired tear gas at hooded demonstrators, who were throwing stones and petrol bombs.  

About 50,000 people took to the streets, banging drums and shouting slogans against austerity measures they say are bringing Greek people to their knees.
It is the first major public demonstration since a new coalition government, led by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, was elected three months ago on a pro-euro, pro-bailout platform. Demonstrators wanted to show the new government they have had enough of the cuts.

Watch related video of Greece strike

Alexis Tsipras is leader of the opposition Leftist party Syriza. He said that if the coalition government of Samaras cannot protect the rights of Greek society, and accepts and co-signs the "barbaric measures" that are leading to a "Greek holocaust," then it is up to the "voice of the Greek people."

The street protest was coupled with a general strike called by the two biggest unions, which represent about half the work force. A three-hour walkout by air traffic controllers disrupted flights around the country. Shop keepers pulled down their shutters and locked up for the afternoon, and museums and monuments closed their doors.

King’s College London lecturer Ramon Pacheco Pardo is an expert on Greece. He said, “The strike is probably one of the most important ones we have had since the beginning of the crisis, since it is attempting to bring together all the different groups that are against the government cuts and actually want a new debate on whether Greece, first of all, should keep the euro, but also whether the cuts are the best way forward in the country.”

Strikers are rallying against a new agreement being drafted by the Greek government that would wipe $15 billion from spending, mostly by cutting wages, pensions and benefits.

But while the Greek government is hemmed in by public unrest on one side, on the other, international lenders that have been propping up the Greek economy since 2010, are also putting on pressure.  The new cuts are needed to persuade the lenders to release $40 billion in financial aid that Greece needs to avoid defaulting on its debt.

London School of Economics lecturer Spyros Economides said it is the first real test to see if Samaras can push ahead with austerity in the face of widespread discontent.

“What happens is that if the pressure becomes immense, then there would be a call for new elections. And then those elections could potentially lead to a new government, perhaps one led by the current major opposition party, who have said quite categorically that if we come to power, we will leave the Eurozone and we will return to the [Greek] drachma, which in my opinion is the biggest possible catastrophe for Greece right now,” said Economides.

The government has a difficult path to navigate, he said, between its citizens and its lenders.  

“In the last two years we have seen in Greece that there have been moments in which these very peaceful and legitimate democratic strike actions have been hijacked by a small group of people and become very violent, and that is really disturbing," said Economides. "Then I think you will see a different kind of reaction, because then the uncertainty becomes one of not only what do these strikes mean, but could they spill over into a broader civil unrest, which could destroy the whole possibility of Greece coming out of this in a few years’ time as a normal European state.”

And that could be a worry, he said, with Wednesday’s strike only the first of many likely to take place in the coming months.

Photogallery of strikes in Greece
  • A demonstrator throws a molotov cocktail to riot police officers near Syntagma square during a 24-hour labor strike in Athens, Sept. 26, 2012.
  • Supporters of the Greek Communist party march by the parliament during the strike in Athens Sept. 26, 2012. Flights and trains were suspended, shops pulled down their shutters and hospitals worked on emergency staff.
  • A fire bomb explodes among riot police during clashes in Athens, Sept. 26, 2012.
  • A riot policeman is engulfed by flames after a protester threw petrol bombs in Athens' Syntagma square, Sept. 26, 2012.
  • Riot police officers try to arrest a masked demonstrator during clashes in Athens, Sept. 26, 2012.
  • A man stands inside the empty Eleftherios Venizelos airport during the 24-hour labor strike in Athens Sept. 26, 2012.
  • Graffiti in Athens, Sept. 25, 2012.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More