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Anti-austerity protest in Greece draws 5,000

By Demetris Nellas

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 18 2011 9:22 a.m. MDT

Backdropped by the Greek Parliament, theatrical performers from the French theatrical company "Le Theatre du Soleil" hold up a giant marionette representing "justice" being chased by black birds representing "injustice" during a peaceful ongoing rally against plans for new austerity measures, at Syntagma square, in central Athens, Saturday, June 18, 2011. Greece has seen near-daily protests against the belt-tightening that has slashed salaries and pensions in an attempt to stem its ballooning debt.

Lefteris Pitarakis, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Several thousand pro-Communist union members marched through central Athens Saturday to protest the government's latest austerity measures and plans to sell off state enterprises to appease international creditors.

Greece has seen near-daily protests against the belt-tightening that has slashed salaries and pensions in an attempt to stem its ballooning debt.

"People should have no illusions ... (the government) and creditors will sit together to skin the Greek people alive," Communist party secretary Aleka Papariga told the crowd of 5,000, which dispersed without incident.

Greece was roiled by political and market turmoil in the last week over new spending cuts and tax hikes. Prime Minister George Papandreou ousted his finance minister and appointed his main party rival, Evangelos Venizelos, to the post.

Germany, fearing that Greece would soon default, calmed market fears Friday by retreating from its stance that banks and other private lenders should be forced to share the pain of a second bailout for Greece.

Venizelos will face his European colleagues for the first time Sunday at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers that is expected to approve payment of a fifth installment from the €110 billion rescue package approved for Greece in May 2010. The International Monetary Fund is widely expected to approve releasing its own share of the installment in early July. If approved, the EU and the IMF will provide Greece with a badly needed €12 billion ($17 billion).

Also Sunday, Papandreou will open a three-day parliamentary debate that will conclude midnight Tuesday with a vote of confidence. With 155 deputies in the 300-strong parliament, he is expected to win the vote. He is then expected to pass a €28 billion ($40 billion) package of steep tax hikes and budget cuts before the end of the month, in the face of mounting protests by unions and the nonpartisan crowds that gather each evening outside Parliament.

The powerful state electricity company employees' union GENOP has announced it will begin rolling 48-hour strikes next week, threatening to cause blackouts, while public and private sector unions are expected to stage a 48-hour general strike on the date, yet to be determined, that the new austerity package will be voted on.

"We must vote this package, because our credibility with (Greece's creditors) is at stake and because we must ensure that servicing our debt remains sustainable," Venizelos told Greek media late Friday. "We must then embark on a radical change to our tax system, make it simpler. I am open to proposals from the opposition," he added.

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