A wave of strikes and street protests swept across Greece yesterday against leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ latest austerity measures in keeping with the country’s third bailout package since 2010.
The motto of the protests – “Poverty, taxes, unemployment – you crossed all lines” – was addressed at Tsipras’ cabinet.
Bus, tram and underground drivers stopped working before the morning rush-hour in Athens.
In Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, only one bus per line circulated.
Ferries connecting the Greek islands remained docked and some inland flights were also grounded during a four-hour strike by air traffic controllers.
International flights were not affected.
Schools were closed and doctors treated only emergency cases, while the media stopped broadcasting news at midnight on Wednesday and were set to resume 24 hours later.
An estimated 20,000 people demonstrated against austerity in Athens and another 8,000 in Thessaloniki.
The largest labour unions, the public sector ADEDY and the private sector GSEE, backed the protests.
Greece has been bailed out three times since 2010 by eurozone member states and the International Monetary Fund to prevent a default and reduce the risks of other members of the monetary union.
The third bailout was agreed in May.
The €86bn ($101bn) package, which runs until August 2018, is supposed to be the last.
After that, Athens is expected to return to financial markets for funds.
In return, Greece had to commit to sweeping structural reforms and austerity measures, which have been highly unpopular domestically.
Angered by seven years of austerity, amid which their average income dropped by a quarter and unemployment soared to the highest in the European Union, Greeks have routinely gone on strike in protest.
Earlier this month, Greece and its European creditors reached a preliminary agreement on reforms it needed to implement in order to secure more bailout money.
So far, €40.2bn of €86bn have been paid out, and Greece is hoping that the latest agreement will unlock another €5.5bn.
The latest steps, which triggered the new protest, include limiting the right of labour unions to call strikes and loosening rules for firing workers.
Greece, however, has more work to do to secure the release of the next tranche.
“The next steps will now be for the Greek government to implement” the agreed to reforms, Eurogroup chair Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on December 4.
Most of the reforms could be implemented before Christmas and the rest at the start of 2018, allowing eurozone ministers to release the tranche when they meet on January 22, he said.
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