June 6, 2011

Greece Pushes Further Austerity as People Demonstrate

More than 80,000 take to streets to protest years more of tightened belts

Greece's prime minister has a tough job ahead of him: selling years more of austerity to a population already roiling under financial constraints designed to pay back the nation's debts. Prime Minister George Papandreou was set on Monday to campaign for additional years of tough times, presenting a new and more severe austerity plan to the Socialist cabinet that rules the country.

Even among Papandreou's own party, the measures are unpopular, with members objecting to it as the country's citizens gathered in the streets over the weekend in continuing protests over lower wages, higher taxes, raging unemployment and political corruption, Reuters reported.

At least 80,000 protesters, the largest turnout yet in a series of 12 nightly rallies, gathered in Athens' Syntagma Square outside Parliament on Sunday, demonstrating their fury at the prospect of more years of living under tight restrictions to pay back what they see as the government's failure to crack down on corruption as it seeks to make honest citizens pay for its mistakes.

Some lawmakers, wary of constituents' anger, are opposed to the measures, which must be passed in order for Greece to receive yet another bailout. Failure to enact the plan could lead to a breakdown in the deal and further troubles for the beleaguered country. On Thursday 16 lawmakers wrote to Papandreou demanding full debate within the party on the plan, calling it "a matter of patriotism and democracy."

To add insult to injury, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview to appear on Monday in the newspaper Bildthat Greece has not done enough to address its financial situation. Volker Kauder, a powerful parliamentary floor leader and conservative voice within Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), said on Sunday to the paper that any decision on additional aid for Greece was still to be made.

In the report he was quoted saying, "Greece is trying, but its efforts are insufficient. We've got to use a firmer hand to lead Greece on the route to solidarity [with eurozone countries]." He continued, "We can't let ourselves be influenced by the demonstrations in Greece. It's time that Greece finally becomes a state with central European standards. That's the only way we can prevent Europe from going to seed."

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