ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek workers of all ages and professions, pensioners, students, the old and young marched on parliament in Athens Wednesday to vent their anger at the country’s politicians and their austerity plans.
Tens of thousands took part in the protest rally, which follows three weeks of peaceful evening gatherings in the central Syntagma Square of people from all walks of life, tired of tightening their belts a year after Greece received an EU/IMF bailout.
“I feel rage and disgust,” 45-year-old civil servant Maria Georgila, a mother of two, said in front of parliament.
“These measures are very tough and they won’t get us out of the crisis. I can’t believe they have no alternative.”
Like others yelling “Thieves!” and raising open hands toward parliament in a traditionally offensive gesture, 38-year-old Maria Koutroumba said she felt betrayed.
“They are traitors, they’ve plagued the country,” the unemployed woman said of the politicians as she helped form a human chain around the parliament building.
“These measures are hurting us, the ordinary people,” said Koutroumba, who used to get by on short-term contracts in the private sector but is now out of work, like over 800,000 Greeks.
The jobless rate hit a record 16.2 percent in March as cutbacks to rein in Greece’s huge debt burden of 340 billion euros stifled the economy further. The EU and the IMF expect the Greek economy to contract 3.8 percent this year.
Greece’s international lenders have also insisted that the country sell 50 billion euros of state assets to reduce its debt mountain.
“More people must take to the streets and say that Greece is not for sale,” said Koutroumba, who spent the night on the square and said she would stay as long as needed.
Greek lawmakers were due to discuss a new austerity package of 6.5 billion euros in tax rises and spending cuts this year, including higher tax on cars and restaurants and slashing the public sector workforce.
“We wouldn’t be here if they (the politicians) had made sacrifices as well,” said 60-year-old pensioner Panayotis Dounis, who said he had joined the non-political rally in front of parliament nearly every night for about half an hour.
Dounis said he wanted no violence at the anti-austerity rallies. Most protesters marched peacefully Wednesday, though the rally was marred by clashes between stone-throwing youths and police.
“I am willing to make sacrifices, to live only on bread and olives, but what are they (politicians) doing for us?” asked the former builder, who retired last year.
“I want them to work for four years without getting paid, for Greece, for their country,” said Dounis, whose three children are jobless and who believes MPs can afford to work for free for a while.
Singer Vassilis Theodorakopoulos, 32, who performs in various places to make ends meet, has been camping in central Syntagma Square for the past 20 days.
“All of these governments must vanish,” he said. “We want to reorganize Greece away from any memorandum, the EU and the IMF.”