June 15, 2011

Greek Protests Turn Violent; Euro Zone Debt Talks Fail

Protesters swamp Parliament over debt measures as EU wrangling continues

Greeks protesting austerity measures turned violent in Athens on Wednesday, a day after after euro zone finance ministers failed to come up with a solution to the nation's debt crisis.

Reuters reported that, while some ministers insisted that a solution would be in the works by the time of the next meeting of European leaders on June 23-24, or sounded optimistic, Wolfgang Schaueble, Germany's finance minister, said flatly, "There has been no result." Ministers are planning another meeting Sunday in Luxembourg in advance of the leaders' meeting.

Thousands of protesters gathered outside Parliament in Athens on Wednesday, chanting, "Thieves, traitors! Where did the money go?" in an attempt to prevent leaders from considering additional austerity measures that included additional taxes, spending and job cuts, and privatization of state property. CNN reported that petrol bombs were hurled at the Ministry of Finance and police responded with tear gas.

Strikers shut down trains and ports and hospitals operated under reduced staffs; airports were slated to remain open. Public sector union ADEDY said it would join demonstrators; the union represents half a million workers.

Some of the new austerity measures before Parliament include additional luxury taxes, more taxes on cars, swimming pools, real estate and soft drinks, a crackdown on tax evasion and slashing Greece's 750,000-strong public workforce by a fifth.

Many members of Parliament are opposed to the new measures, with one Socialist deputy leaving the government and reducing the ruling party's majority to 155 of 300 seats. Another MP, George Lianis, was quoted saying, "You have to be as cruel as a tiger to vote for these measures. I am not," in a Tuesday letter to Parliament Speaker Filippos Petsalnikos.

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