Thousands of Greeks protested outside parliament on Wednesday against the left-led coalition government and the latest wave of austerity measures demanded by the country’s international lenders in exchange for vital bailout funds.
Demonstrators in Syntagma square – the scene of violent clashes in recent years – held banners reading “Go home!” and chanted “Shame on you!”
“We protest against the lies that (Prime Minister) Alexis Tsipras told the Greek people,” said 60-year old protester Ioannis Papadopoulos holding a banner reading “Resign!”.
“They (the coalition government) destroyed Greece,” he said.
Greece’s parliament approved several waves of austerity measures in May and June, including pension reforms and tax hikes, in exchange for a tranche of 7.5 billion euros which is expected to be disbursed next week.
But after six years of sacrifices most Greeks believe the government cannot pull the country out of its worst debt crisis in decades, according to a survey by Alco pollsters which was published for Ta Nea newspaper.
While Wednesday’s rally was the largest since February, with over 5,000 people, it was brief and peaceful.
It took place as lawmakers debated a bill offering big investors more than a decade of no tax hikes, in an effort to promote entrepreneurship in a country struggling to return to growth after almost seven years of recession.
Outside parliament, recordings of Tsipras’s pre-election speeches promising to protect pensions and scrap an unpopular property tax blared from loudspeakers as protesters booed.
The government has accused the main conservative opposition of organising the protest behind the scenes. Organisers deny it.
Despite his pledges to end austerity and tear up the country’s EU/IMF bailouts, the leftist premier was finally forced to cave into foreign lenders’ demands in July, and sign up to a new bailout to keep the country in the euro zone.
Since the coalition government was re-elected in September, participation in street protests has been thin. But scuffles often break out during events attended by ministers and union resistance has been growing.
On Tuesday, Greek civil aviation workers announced a five-day strike from June 20 to June 25, to protest the long-term lease of 14 regional airports as agreed under the bailout.
Port workers have been on 48-hour rolling strikes since last month to protest at the sale of Greece’s two largest ports in Piraeus and Thessaloniki.
Workers at state railways operator TRAINOSE have also been staging stoppages against its privatisation and plan a 24-hour strike on June 22, when final bids from investors are due.
Greece’s central bank said on Wednesday the economy was expected to contract only slightly this year, but called on the country’s European peers to grant it debt relief and lower its fiscal targets to help ease the belt-tightening.