ATHENS Hundreds of Greek pensioners and workers marched in central Athens on Friday, protesting against plans to overhaul an ailing pension system as the government sought backing for its proposals at home and in European capitals.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said the pension system is on the verge of collapse; but reforming it will challenge his resolve to implement measures demanded by Greece's international creditors, who must sign off on the plan.
About 100 protesters supporting the Communist-affiliated union PAME unfurled a huge banner outside the prime minister's office, slamming the plan as "a guillotine for the pension system".
Hundreds more public sector workers and pensioners, worn down by several rounds of wage and pension cuts Greece has imposed over the years in return for rescue funds marched in the city centre.
Tensions flared briefly when the crowd broke past a line of police in riot gear and headed towards Tsipras's office. Police responded with tear gas.
"The government tricked the workers and the farmers into thinking that it will create a better society with more justice and less unemployment," 74-year-old pensioner Babis Kattis said from the rally. "Pensioners are about to become beggars."
Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos began a tour of European capitals to discuss debt and pension problems with counterparts in Rome, Lisbon, Paris, Helsinki, Amsterdam and Berlin.
According to the proposals Greece sent its lenders on Monday, all six main pension funds will be merged into one and future main pensions could be cut by up to 30 percent.
It sets a lower limit at 384 euros per month and sets a ceiling of 2,300 euros on the maximum monthly pension outlay. The average monthly pension currently stands at about 850 euros.
An EU source said Greece had sent the draft pension reform bill to the lenders and Eurogroup secretariat in Greek only, and as of Friday morning they were still waiting for the translation.
"The crisis has blown up the foundations of the social security system," Katrougalos said. "We want to give the social security system hope, so that the average pensioner does not lose hope that they will continue receiving a pension."
Greece must implement the reforms to conclude the first review of its multi-billion bailout out agreed with its lenders in July.
The government plans to submit the proposal to parliament by the end of the month and vote on it in early February, a government official told Reuters.
It secured the cautious backing of four employers' associations on Thursday, who said they were not opposed to "a small, temporary rise in social security contributions."
But opposition political parties have said they will not back the plan when it is tabled in parliament and the country's biggest private sector union GSEE said on Friday it planned labor action against the reforms "to avoid the worst."
(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos, Lefteris Karagiannopoulos and Renee Maltezou in Athens and Paul Taylor in Brussels; Writing by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)