THESSALONIKI, Greece, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) — Thousands of Greek demonstrators protested against government austerity measures in the center of the northern city Thessaloniki on Saturday afternoon under draconian security measures, as minor violent incidents have already marred the premiere of the 75th Thessaloniki International Fair.
More than 4,500 policemen were on increased alert around the conference center, where Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is due to deliver a keynote speech on his government’s economic policy shortly, as tension in the area rose.
Holding banners with slogans like “We are not for sale” and “No to EU and International Monetary Fund,” demonstrators from all over the country participated in the rallies organized by labor unions, with minor scuffles with police reported.
Earlier on Saturday noon a Greek doctor who was believed to be a member of a far Right group attempted to throw a shoe at Papandreou, shouting that his government betrayed Greek people and served the interests of bankers.
The man was apprehended by the premier’s bodyguards and sent to a local police station, along with his 15-year-old daughter and a 55-year-old friend. According to Greek media reports, the doctor had called on citizens of Thessaloniki through his website to ” welcome Papandreou with their old shoes.”
Later on Saturday afternoon, Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EBEA) President Constantinos Michalos was attacked by a group of protesting truck drivers as he entered a Thessaloniki hotel for the General Assembly of the Central Union of Chambers of Greece. He was punched on the face, but was not seriously injured and participated in the meeting as scheduled.
Michalos, who supports the government’s plan to liberalize the freight truck sector, which is a “closed” market in Greece, denounced the attack.
“Such efforts will not stop reforms,” said Michalos, as unionists of the truck owners, who operate with state licenses for decades in Greece and object to a government plan to open up the sector, announced a new strike next week.
Also on Saturday a small group of teachers occupied for a while the Greek Finance Ministry’s kiosk at the trade fair venue, chanting slogans against cutbacks on salaries and a freeze on hiring more teachers.
“We will safeguard democracy. We will safeguard citizens’ right to demonstrate, but also it is the duty of the whole society to safeguard people’s lives and properties. And we will do that,” said Greek Citizens’ Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis.