May 1, 2010 2:55 pm

Thousands protest ahead of new austerity measures

Greek police on Saturday fired teargas at demonstrators outside the finance ministry at the end of a May Day march by thousands of workers protesting against a new austerity programme due to be announced on Sunday.

The protesters smashed store windows in the city centre and set fire to rubbish containers and two mobile broadcast vans belonging to Greek television stations.

The march – led by the communist trade union PAME – continued past the European Commission offices and ended peacefully outside the US embassy, police said.

“We are going to suffer because of measures imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund … but it is those who ruined the economy that should pay,” said Tassos Anestis, a shipyard worker.

About 20,000 people took part in the march, according to a police estimate. Seamen and railworkers staged a 24-hour strike, shutting down train services and ferry sailings to the Greek islands.

A team from the IMF, the Commission and the European Central Bank, was due to wrap up a €24bn programme of fiscal and structural reforms on Saturday after 10 days of negotiations with finance ministry officials.

George Papandreou, prime minister, was set to chair a cabinet meeting on Sunday morning to approve the programme before it is made public, officials said.

Eurozone finance ministers were to hold an emergency meeting in Brussels later in the day to arrange final details of a rescue plan that would allow Greece draw on more than €100bn in loans from the Fund and eurozone countries between now and 2012.

The timetable calls for Greece’s parliament to approve the austerity package by mid-week.

The government expects it will be able to draw down funds from the rescue package later this month in order to re-finance €8.5bn of 10-year bonds expiring on May 19, one official said.

An opinion poll published on Saturday in the To Vima newspaper showed 51 per cent of those asked accepted the EU-IMF programme was “a necessity, but 94 per cent believed “things will get worse” in the coming months.

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