Protests erupt in Athens as the Greece finalizes cuts
Anti-austerity protests Wednesday clogged Athens as the government struggled to finalise additional cutbacks with its creditors and sought to jumpstart a privatisation drive delayed for months.
Some 2,000 teachers, hospital doctors and municipal staff demonstrated against a new round of state salary cuts and job losses expected by October, with security staff prepared to demonstrate later in the day.
Most town halls were to remain closed until Thursday, with mayors warning that they already have trouble paying their staff because of prior funding cuts to local governments.
“State funding is down by over 65 percent since 2009,” Christos Kortzidis, mayor of the coastal suburb of Hellenikon, told AFP. “We are on the verge of a payment default.”
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has called his coalition partners to a 1630 GMT meeting, with time running out for Athens to finalise about 11.5 billion euros ($14.7 billion) in cuts in 2013-14 to unblock access to EU-IMF loans.
News reports on Wednesday said the government was under intense pressure from its ‘troika’ of creditors — the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank — to cut pensions and severance pay and revise working hours.
Samaras has struggled to convince creditors that his government is determined to push forward with reforms that are months behind schedule, but the demands for further action have strained the conservative leader’s three-party coalition.
Athens must wrap the cuts package up by Friday if it is to present the plan to eurozone partners then meeting in Cyprus.
On Tuesday, the state privatisation fund announced that several projects had moved a step forward for the first time since May.
The Hellenic asset development fund said it had shortlisted property developers from Israel, Greece, Britain and Qatar for the sale of up to 70 percent of shares in the capital’s former airport of Hellenikon, one of Greece’s foremost real estate assets.
Another six investors, including companies from Britain and Russia, had been vetted for the development of land on the tourist islands of Rhodes and Corfu.
The government recently replaced the head of the privatisation fund after the agency concluded just four sales worth 1.8 billion euros ($2.3 billion) over 11 months, compared to an overall five-year target of 28 projects worth 19 billion euros.
The troika report, expected in October, will determine whether Greece will be able to receive a much-needed 31-billion-euro instalment from its 130-billion-euro EU-IMF rescue package.
The upcoming measures are reported to include slashing pensions by 3.5 billion euros, health cuts worth 1.47 billion euros as well as a 517-million-euro reduction in defence spending.
But the creditors are believed to have rejected part of the proposals as unrealistic, sending Greek officials back to the drawing board.