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Posts tagged ‘Protests in Greece’

Clashes in Greece as thousands protest austerity

May 17, 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — An anti-austerity rally in Greece’s capital turned violent Wednesday as a general strike halted flights, ferries and public transportation, and thousands joined protest marches across the country.

A small group of protesters threw gasoline bombs and fired flares at riot police after the marches ended in Athens. Police responded with tear gas. The clashes broke out after peaceful marches involving around 12,000 people.

Nearby, protesting police officers blocked the entrance to a Finance Ministry building. The protests occurred as lawmakers were set to approve another batch of reforms that will impose years more hardship on austerity-weary Greeks.

The new belt-tightening measures that will be imposed beyond the end of Greece’s third bailout next year, including pension cuts and tax hikes. The left-led coalition government agreed to the cuts as part of a deal with the country’s international creditors to release funds from its bailout.

Thousands of protesters were marching through central Athens toward parliament in a series of demonstrations as part of the strike. “No to the new looting of salaries and pensions,” civil servants union ADEDY said.

Police unionists hung a giant banner off the side of Lycabettus Hill in the center of Athens, with a slogan in German and Greek reading “how much is the life of a Greek policeman worth?” Public hospitals were functioning with emergency staff only, while public transport was disrupted, leaving many main roads gridlocked in the capital. Intercity trains were not running, and there was no subway service between Athens airport and the city. Courts were shut while lawyers and notaries public backed away from official duties, and customs and local government offices were closed.

Air traffic controllers were holding a four-hour work stoppage in the middle of the day, leading to the rescheduling or cancellation of more than 150 flights. Ferries were also tied up in port until late Friday after seamen began a four-day strike Tuesday.

Unless bailout funds are unlocked, Greece would once more struggle to meet a spike in debt repayments due this summer and face another brush with bankruptcy. In parliament, lawmakers were debating the measures that include additional pension cuts in 2019 and higher income tax from 2020, ahead of a Thursday midnight vote.

On the streets of Athens, opinions on the strike diverged. “It doesn’t make a difference whether you strike or not. All the measures will pass anyway,” said Apostolos Seitanidis as he walked in the city center.

But another Athenian, Panagiotis Adamopoulos, disagreed. “Every strike is a holy thing,” he said. “If we dismiss it, surely we’ll end up getting 300-euro ($330) salaries and 200-euro pensions.” Unions and the opposition have compared the new measures to those of a fourth bailout, but without the corresponding funding from international creditors. The government, which originally came to power in 2015 promising to repeal previous austerity measures, has vehemently rejected the accusation, emphasizing that it will also take other measures to relieve poverty.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke Tuesday morning with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has been the single largest contributor to the Greek bailouts, and discussed the issue of Greece’s debt, his office said Wednesday.

While the country’s finances have improved under the bailouts, the belt-tightening has led to spiraling poverty. Unemployment, while down from highs of above 27 percent, hovers at around 23 percent.

Migrants’ protest at Idomeni camp fizzles out

March 27, 2016

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — A protest by hundreds of migrants, egged on by activists to demand that the border between Greece and Macedonia be opened, passed without any serious incidents on Sunday. However, it exposed rifts between different ethnic groups among the over 11,000 refugees and migrants stranded at this makeshift encampment, some for weeks, after Balkan countries on what used to be the busiest migrant route to central and northern Europe shut down their borders.

The European Union has effectively approved this policy by signing a deal with Turkey that discourages war refugees from making the sea crossing from Turkey to Greece and ending the hopes of migrants from other countries of being admitted into Europe.

Several hundred Iraqis and Syrians in the Idomeni border camp stood between protesters and police on Sunday, thwarting the protesters’ efforts to march toward the fence separating Greece from Macedonia. Scuffles broke out between the two groups.

The protesters twice broke through the barrier the Iraqis and Syrians have formed, only to be pushed back by Greek riot police who used only their shields. People speaking for the Iraqis and Syrians, including Kurds from both countries, told police that they are not taking part in the protest, which they said was mounted by people from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also said that activists were circulating at the camp Saturday.

“There were people, whom we do not know, telling us that they would help us open the border at noon today, but obviously this was not true,” Syrian refugee Hassan Fatuhlla told The Associated Press. Fatuhlla, one of those who have formed a chain around the police, has been at the camp for 37 days. His child was born in a tent 10 days ago, he said.

Leftist activists from Greece and other European countries have staged protests outside the transit centers and appear determined to sabotage the deal. The rumors they spread that the border would open Sunday led some people who had gone to the centers to return to Idomeni. These people then began protesting that the border has not opened. With the protest having ended, many of those, often whole families loaded with baggage, took taxes or buses back to the transit centers, in a decidedly subdued mood.

“Some people lied to us about the border opening,” said Delbar Kalbey, 35, a Syrian Kurd from the city of Kobane, who made the trip from a transit center to Idomeni with his wife, their 7-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl.

Greek police said they stopped two buses and 10 cars carrying Italian activists slightly over 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the border protest.

Demetris Nellas contributed to this report from Athens, Greece.

Iraqi, Syrian refugees block other migrants’ protest

March 27, 2016

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — Several hundred Iraqis and Syrians in the Idomeni border camp stood between protesters and police on Sunday, thwarting the protesters’ efforts to march toward the fence separating Greece from Macedonia. Scuffles broke out between the two groups.

The protesters twice broke through the barrier the Iraqis and Syrians have formed, only to be pushed back by Greek riot police who used only their shields. People speaking for the Iraqis and Syrians, including Kurds from both countries, have told police that they are not taking part in Sunday’s protest and that the protesters are from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They also say that activists were circulating at the camp Saturday, urging people to join the

“There were people, whom we do not know, telling us that they would help us open the border at noon today, but obviously this was not true,” Syrian refugee Hassan Fatuhlla told The Associated Press. Fatuhlla, one of those who have formed a chain around the police, has been at the camp for 37 days. His child was born in a tent 10 days ago, he said.

Iraqis and Syrians are allowed into the European Union as war refugees, although the route through the Balkans is now closed and refugees discouraged from taking the perilous sea journey to Greek islands from Turkey.

Leftist activists from Greece and other European countries have staged protests outside the transit centers and appear determined to sabotage the deal. The rumors spread by them that the border would open Sunday led some people who had gone to the centers to return to Idomeni. These people then protesting that the border has not opened.

Greek police said they stopped two buses and 10 cars carrying Italian activists slightly over 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the border protest.

Stranded migrants protest in Greece, demand open borders

March 27, 2016

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — Hundreds of migrants, egged on by activists, are protesting near the fence separating Macedonia from Greece, demanding that the border be opened to allow them to continue their journey into central Europe.

Greek riot police are standing between the fence and the protesters, who are chanting “Open the borders!” and holding placards. Macedonian police are also standing ready in case the border is breached.

About 11,500 refugees have been stranded in a makeshift camp in the Greek border town of Idomeni after the European Union effectively endorsed the Balkan countries’ moves to seal their borders, shutting down the busiest migrant route.

The Greek government hopes the Idomeni camp will be evacuated by the end of April and that migrants will move to “transit centers” set up throughout Greece.

Greece: Aid workers protest deportations as delays mount

March 24, 2016

LESBOS, Greece (AP) — Aid workers on the island of Lesbos Thursday protested planned deportations of migrants and refugees from Greece, as the government said the process would not start for at least another 10 days.

Blowing whistles and banging aluminum containers, dozens of aid workers gathered outside a refugee registration center on the island where hundreds of people are now being detained. “We organized this protest … to give a face to the people because they almost have none anymore, since they are locked inside,” independent aid worker Nefeli Gazis said.

More than 2,000 refugees and migrants have been detained on Lesbos and other islands near the Turkish coast since an international agreement went into effect Sunday to fast track deportations to Turkey.

Last week’s EU-Turkey agreement stipulates those arriving on Greek islands from the Turkish coast as of March 20 would be detained and sent back. For every Syrian returned, another Syrian in Turkey will be relocated to a European country.

European officials say the system aims to discourage refugees from risking their lives to cross the Aegean. Human rights and aid groups have strongly criticized the decision as inhumane and illegal, with most scaling back operations that involve assisting the government.

In Athens, a government official told the AP that deportations would start on April 4, and would carried out by the European Union’s border protection agency, Frontex. Giorgos Kyritsis, a spokesman for a government refugee crisis committee, said the send-backs would start with migrants who had made no asylum claim while being held in detention in Greece.

“It’s unclear what vessels will be used to make the transfer, but Frontex will have the authority over those operations,” he said. Earlier, Kyritsis announced the government was creating 30,000 new places at refugee shelters — extending capacity at existing sites and creating new ones — over the next 20 days for voluntary evacuation of refugees camped out at the Greek-Macedonian border and the country’s main port of Piraeus.

Some 12,000 people remain at the border camp near the village of Idomeni, most living in squalid conditions. “We will intensify our efforts to persuade people to leave Idomeni. Chartered buses will be available starting tomorrow for people who want to start leaving,” Kyritsis said.

Legislative amendments needed for the EU-Turkey deal to take full effect in Greece, would be submitted to parliament next Wednesday, he said.

Migrants expelled from Greek camp after protest

February 23, 2016

IDOMENI, Greece (AP) — Police have removed hundreds of migrants from a camp at Greece’s border with Macedonia following a protest that halted freight rail services to other Balkan countries. In France, hundreds of migrants camped in the port of Calais face a deadline Tuesday evening to move out. , However, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve insisted the evacuation would be “progressive.”

Greek authorities said the mostly Afghan migrants were being put on buses bound for Athens, in the south of the country, after the police operation started early Tuesday. Journalists were not allowed to approach the area.

The migrants were to be taken to an army-built camp near Athens that was set up last week, following European Union pressure on Athens to complete screening and temporary housing facilities. Before Tuesday’s police operation, Afghan families were seen pleading with Macedonian riot police officers, through a border fence, to let them cross the frontier.

Macedonia at the weekend began stopping Afghan migrants at the border, and slowing the rate at which asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq were allowed to cross the border — leaving thousands stranded in Greece, where an average of 4,000 migrants and refugees each day.

More than 1 million migrants and refugees reached the EU last year, with more than 80 percent of them traveling from Turkey to nearby Greek islands. Greek has strongly criticized Austria’s decision last week to cap the daily number of asylum applications and migrants crossing the country. Ioannis Mouzalas, a migration minister in Greece, accused Austria and allied EU member states in eastern Europe of “lacking European culture” and undermining efforts to forge a common European response with unilateral action.

The relief agency International Rescue Committee late Monday said Macedonia’s decision to turn Afghans away was “yet another example of arbitrary, unilateral decisions by individual states threatening to cause serious humanitarian consequences for desperate refugees.”

Mirwais Amin, a 20-year-old Afghan migrant, said he was separated from relatives after being stopping from reaching the border and camping out at a nearby site. “Macedonia isn’t letting migrants through. I can’t understand why,” he said.

“I can’t get to the (border) camp, and members of my family are there. It’s cold here and we have no food.”

40,000 protest pension reform as general strike grips Greece

February 04, 2016

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Sporadic clashes broke out in central Athens Thursday as tens of thousands marched to the Greek Parliament during a general strike called to protest planned pension reforms that are part of the country’s third international bailout.

Dozens of hooded anarchists threw petrol bombs and stones at riot police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Police said a journalist was attacked by rioters and taken to hospital but was not in serious condition.

Overall, police said about 40,000 people took part in two separate, consecutive demonstrations through central Athens. Smaller protests were held in other major cities. Unions are angry at pension reforms that are part of Greece’s third international bailout. The left-led government is trying to overhaul the country’s ailing pension system by increasing social security contributions to avoid pension cuts, but critics say the reforms will lead many to lose two-thirds of their income.

Opposition to the reform has been vociferous, uniting a disparate group of professions, including farmers, artists, taxi drivers, lawyers, doctors, engineers and seamen among others. Thursday’s general strike is the most significant the coalition government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has faced since he initially came to power a little more than a year ago. As an opposition party, Tsipras’ radical left Syriza party had led opposition to pension reforms, but he was forced to ditch his earlier stance when faced with the stark choice of signing up to a third bailout or the country having to leave the euro currency.

Syriza’s difficulties with the pension reform plan were evident in the party’s statement that it was backing Thursday’s strike. Athens pensioner Yannis Kouvalakis said Tsipras’ government “fooled” Greeks by promising to reverse austerity cuts.

“Because they are from the left, what happened? Was the situation saved? Things got worse. They’d said they’d give some money to pensioners or the unemployed, increase the minimum wage to 750 euros (per month),” he said. “They cut five euros from my pension … What can they give? Forget it.”

The strike comes as the government negotiates with Greece’s international debt inspectors, who returned to Athens this week to review progress on the country’s bailout obligations. The central Athens hotel where the inspectors were staying was heavily guarded by police.

Ferries between Greece’s islands and the mainland remained tied up in port as part of the strike, while only limited public transport was operating in Athens for a few hours in the day and taxis also stayed off the streets. More than a dozen domestic flights were canceled, while farmers maintained their blockades of highways that have forced motorists into lengthy detours.

State-run hospitals were functioning on emergency staff, while state schools, many shops and gas stations were shut.

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