ATHENS, Greece — Protesters clashed with riot police as more than 10,000 people marched through central Athens Thursday during a nationwide general strike against the government’s harsh new austerity measures.
The strike grounded all flights and brough public transport to a halt. State hospitals were left with emergency staff only and all news broadcasts were suspended as workers walked off the job for 24 hours to protest spending cuts and tax hikes designed to tackle the country’s debt crisis.
Fears of a Greek default have undermined the euro for all 16 countries that share it, putting the Greek government under intense European Union pressure to quickly show fiscal improvement.
It has announced an additional euro4,8 billion ($65.33 billion) in savings through public sector salary cuts, hiring and pension freezes and consumer tax hikes to deal with its ballooning deficit, but the measures have led to a new wave of labor discontent.
The cutbacks, added to a previous euro11.2 billion ($15.24 billion) austerity plan, seek to reduce the country’s budget deficit from 12.7 percent of annual output to 8.7 percent this year. The long-term target is to bring overspending below the EU ceiling of 3 percent of GDP in 2012.
The new plan sparked a wave of strikes and protests from labor unions whose reaction to the initial austerity measures had been muted. Thursday’s strike, which shut down all public services and schools, left ferries tied up at port and suspended all news broadcasts for the day, was the second major walkout in a week.
Riot police fired tear gas to disperse rock-throwing protesters at one point of the demonstration as more than 10,000 strikers and protesters marched through central Athens, banging drums and chanting slogans such as “no sacrifice for plutocracy,” and “real jobs, higher pay.” People draped banners from apartment buildings reading: “No more sacrifices, war against war.”