Greek government pushing on with harsher austerity

By Menelaos Hadjicostis

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 6 2011 7:40 a.m. MDT

A protester throws a stone at riot police in front of the Greek parliament during minor clashes in Athens, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. At least 16,000 protesters converged in the Greek capital, and a crowd of about 10,000 gathered in the northern city of Thessaloniki, as Greek civil servants walked off the job on a 24-hour strike Wednesday, paralyzing the public sector in a protest over ever-deeper austerity measures.

Petros Giannakouris, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — The Greek government will submit a bill on Thursday suspending thousands of civil servants as it pushes ahead with harsh austerity measures to stave off a potentially-disastrous default.

Parliament will vote next week on the bill which aims to suspend 30,000 government workers at reduced pay by the year-end and to further cut salaries by an estimated €2.8 billion ($3.73 billion).

The new cutbacks come on top of salary and pension cuts, as well as a string of tax hikes over the past year and a half that have outraged ordinary Greeks trying to cope with a 16 percent unemployment rate.

A day after a nationwide strike by civil servants shut down the government and much of public transport, about 50 finance ministry workers protested peacefully outside the General Accounting Office over the expected salary cuts.

"We are against much of what this bill contains, that's why we're here," said protester Tassos Goumas, the head of the umbrella group representing finance ministry employee associations.

Retired army officers demonstrated outside the defense ministry over pension cuts, while on the island of Crete, hundreds of angry farmers took over an administrative headquarters to voice their frustration at shrinking salaries.

Greece is struggling to meet budget targets to qualify for the next installment of a €110 billion ($145 billion) package of international bailout loans it has relied on since May 2010 to pay its bills.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos has said that Greece has enough money to pay pensions, salaries and bondholders through mid-November. But the country needs the next batch of loans, worth €8 billion ($10.5 billion), to avoid bankruptcy.

Debt inspectors from the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission are now in Athens evaluating reforms before the funds are released.

Greek government spokesman Ilias Mosialos told state TV that the next batch is "assured" as long as the government follows through with public sector reforms and spending cuts.

The Greek economy is expected to contract 5.5 percent this year and many in the markets expect the government to eventually default on its massive debt, despite Venizelos' assurances that Greece will meet its commitments.

It's feared a disorderly Greek default would wreak financial havoc, particularly among Europe's banks, that could trigger another global recession.

Ahead of a trip to Athens, German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler said all of Europe must help Greece to get back on its feet and that German businesses would invest in the country.

"Multibillion-euro investments shouldn't be expected immediately, but it is necessary to help build up the infrastructure and economic structure — because there are two components to the crisis, on one hand the debt, on the other hand the lack of economic competitiveness," Roesler told Germany's ZDF television.

Roesler said the short-term eurozone rescue measures aren't enough in themselves to overcome all the problems.

"We must use intensively the time that we have won (with these measures) to help build up the economy particularly in difficult countries," he said.

Meanwhile, Greece's Deputy Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change Yiannis Maniatis said the government has approved a search for offshore hydrocarbon deposits in three areas in the north and southwest of the country with an estimated combined quantity of 250 million barrels.

____

APTN producer Theodora Tongas in Athens and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS