Violence erupted in central Athens Wednesday as tens of thousands of Greeks turned out to protest new government austerity measures amounting to €26 billion ($37.4 billion) in spending cuts over the next five years.
Teamed with tax increases, the cuts are aimed at slashing the bloated budget deficit and were a condition of a 110 billion euro bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last May to help Greece avoid default.
The strikes came on the same day that senior European Union and IMF inspectors began a visit to Athens to press Greece to shore up its finances one year into the EU/IMF deal.
The officials met with Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou to talk about the next slice of the bailout package, a 12 billion euro hit without which Greece would effectively default, according to the International Business Times. They will also consider giving Athens improved loan terms or more aid to avoid restructuring its huge debt.
Police said about 20,000 protesters marched to parliament to mark a nationwide 24-hour strike against wage cuts and tax hikes which unions say are strangling the economy.
The protest was restrained by Greek standards, writes the WSJ, although hundreds of youths wearing ski masks threw firecrackers and other objects at police, who responded with tear gas and pepper spray. A strike last May left three bank workers dead.
However, public services ground to a halt across Greece as civil servants, teachers and hospital staff walked off the job. Ferry and rail services, while public transport around the capital operated on a reduced schedule.
Flights were delayed by a four-hour walkout by air-traffic controllers.
Greek public-sector workers have been hardest hit by the reforms, with average wages cut by up to 25 percent and cuts in other benefits and entitlements.
Vassilis Theodorakopoulos, a 53-year-old state-employed dental technician, told the WSJ that he was protesting a 20 percent cut in his salary, as well as a plan to expand the working week for public servants from from 37.5 hours to 40 hours — in line with the private sector.
He also objected to a plan by to eliminate free dental braces for children, his specialty, as part of health-care reform.