Greeks on Thursday reacted with anger and disbelief at a new wave of austerity cuts enacted to keep the country in the eurozone as a public transport strike caused road chaos in Athens.
The embattled socialist government announced pension and tax break cuts and put 30,000 state employees on temporary lay-offs after pledging to do “anything” to stay in the eurozone and unlock bankruptcy-saving EU-IMF loans.
“A merciless raid,” commented the conservative Eleftheros Typos newspaper, while pro-government Ta Nea noted that salaried staff, pensioners and civil servants had been placed on a “sacrificial altar.”
Public transport workers brought the capital to a standstill on Thursday, with the support of irate taxi owners opposed to a liberalisation of their sector, while teachers and municipal workers also staged walkouts.
And air traffic controllers are also holding a four-hour stoppage, forcing airlines to scrap or reschedule flights.
“We are obliged to resist,” the head of Athens’ subway employees Antonis Stamatopoulos told state television NET.
“Not even Greece’s German and Turkish conquerors imposed such taxes,” he said.
Greece has been struggling to convince the European Union and International Monetary Fund that it can bring its tough economic overhaul programme back onto track despite delays and targets slipping due to a deeper-than-expected recession.
On Wednesday, the government announced cuts to pensions above 1,200 euros ($1,650) per month, a furlough for 30,000 state employees and a drastic reduction to revenue exemption on annual taxes to 5,000 euros, from 12,000 euros currently.
“Greece is being turned into a poverty house, new measures are being announced by the day and by the week,” Constantinos Michalos, head of the Athens chamber of commerce and industry, told state television NET.
“There is no compass, this government doesn’t know where it’s going,” he said.
The state hopes to economise a billion euros a year from the pension cuts, according to the labour ministry.
The government late on Wednesday said the measures “send the message to our peers and to markets that Greece both wants and is able to fulfil its obligations, staying within the core of the euro and the EU.”
EU and IMF auditors have agreed to resume a review of Greek finances needed to unlock eight billion euros in rescue funding.
The audit had been suspended in early September, with sources citing lack of progress with reforms, placing in jeopardy the release of funds needed to prevent Athens running out of cash next month.
The additional cuts, on top of a controversial property tax that could be extended to 2014, have raised dissent in the ruling party with backbenchers and former ministers doubting their effectiveness after two years of recession.
The main private sector union GSEE and the Adedy syndicate representing civil servants have called for strikes next month against the austerity measures.
The public sector will shut down on October 5 and a general strike will be held on October 19.