Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Greek Leaders' Austerity Priorities Targeted

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Greek Leaders' Austerity Priorities Targeted

Article excerpt

ATHENS --

Greek citizens have never believed that the deep spending cuts their country has made to avoid bankruptcy were distributed fairly. But top European officials are starting to worry about that, too.

Misgivings remain about whether Greek leaders are committed to instituting the tough policies they have promised in return for the money, not least because of a lingering sense that cuts will continue to hurt the poor far more than the powerful.

Despite those concerns, Greece will probably receive its second rescue in two years on Monday, when finance officials gather in Brussels to discuss a $170 billion bailout for the country. Without it, Greece will run out of money by the end of March, with potentially dire consequences for the global economy as a whole.

Last week, the Greek Parliament approved measures that cut the minimum wage by 22 percent, effective immediately, but trimmed the salaries of the best-paid civil servants 10 percent, effective months from now. Angry rioters torched dozens of buildings in central Athens in reaction to the cuts.

But officials fought until the last moment to spare the largest public pensions from being touched, finally capitulating on Wednesday after European leaders threatened to scotch the bailout altogether.

The rollbacks in social spending, and policies passed last year that increase the tax burden on the poor, have prompted many Greeks to say their leaders are not always fighting for them.

"Politicians," spat Akis Paputsis, a clerk at a hardware store in a seedy stretch of central Athens. "They're all friends with each other."

Until last week, Mr. Paputsis, 25, earned $983 a month before taxes, Greece's minimum wage. With the legislation passed last week, it has dropped to $766, which both he and his girlfriend live on because she can't find a job. The unemployment rate for those under 25 has soared to 48 percent.

After paying taxes and their $525 monthly rent, they have "nothing," he said. …

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