Police brace for more trouble in Greece as unions strike

December 10th, 2008 - 4:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Athens, Dec 10 (DPA) Rioting and violence abated before dawn Wednesday after four nights of civil unrest across Greece, but police braced for more trouble later in the day when trade unions planned rallies during a nationwide strike to protest the government’s economic policies.Anti-government protesters said they were determined to shut down transport, public services and businesses, despite pleas from Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to cancel the general strike.

The prime minister fears a nationwide strike could fuel more large-scale rioting, triggered by the fatal police shooting of a teenager over the weekend.

Greece’s private-sector GSEE and public-sector ADEDY unions are protesting the government’s recent pension reforms, which raise the retirement age and cut back benefits.

The unions also oppose recent labour reforms, privatizations and tax-raising measures.

The two unions represent more than half of the country’s workforce of five million.

Transport across the country ground to a halt in the 24-hour strike.

No domestic and international flights are expected to depart from Athens’ international airport until midnight Wednesday.

Ferry and train services are also expected to stop operations.

Schools and ministries are closed, while hotels and taxis were still operating.

Owing to the already tense situation, the unions decided to limit their rallies to certain locations and cancelled plans for demonstrating in Athens’ streets, Greek state radio said.

Widespread riots first erupted late Saturday shortly after the shooting of a 15-year-old boy by a police officer in the Athens’ bohemian district of Exarchia, a stomping ground for artistes.

Four successive nights of rioting and looting have left hundreds of cars, stores and buildings charred and gutted across Greece and left
many Athenians angry about the response of the government and police to the riots and their inability to stop the destruction.

Reports said rioters have damaged or destroyed more than 250 stores and 70 banks in Athens, while 25 buildings were damaged by fires.

Another 100 stores were damaged in Thessaloniki. The damage is estimated in the millions of euros.

The government, which has seen has seen its ratings fall sharply behind the main opposition Socialists, has promised to compensate businesses for the damage suffered.

The shooting of the teenager was seen as the last straw by many young Greeks whose economic future is bleak in a country with a high unemployment rate and low wages.

Unemployment is pegged at over seven percent, and nearly 20 percent of Greeks live below the poverty line, earning less than 600 euros ($775) a month.

“Everyone appears to have let our children down. Students have become more hostile towards us and to figures of authority,” Christos Kittas said on resigning as the dean of Athens University after
rioting spread to campuses.

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