Newspaper article International New York Times

Thousands of Greeks Strike over Austerity

Newspaper article International New York Times

Thousands of Greeks Strike over Austerity

Article excerpt

Marches were staged in Athens on Thursday as part of a 24-hour general strike to protest against the government's austerity program.

Thousands of Greeks walked off the job on Thursday in a general strike to protest further austerity measures, while government officials wrangled with the country's international creditors over economic policy and whether to extend a financial bailout.

The 24-hour walkout, the first general strike since April, shut down public services, led to the cancellation of hundreds of airline flights and disrupted public transportation across the country.

At issue are proposed civil-service layoffs and pension-system changes that the international creditors, known as the troika, have demanded. The European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund have bailed Greece out financially twice since 2010, providing a total of 240 billion euros, or $300 billion, to help the country cope with its immense debts. In return, they have insisted that Greece impose strict fiscal discipline, including deep spending cuts and tax increases.

Household incomes have since fallen by a third and unemployment is running at 26 percent, while the country's debt burden remains proportionally the highest of any country using the euro.

When Greece unveiled a draft 2015 budget last month that included proposals to ease the economic pain and stimulate the economy with a range of tax cuts, the government appeared to be riding a wave of popular opposition to austerity, which Germany has championed for all of Europe's struggling economies. Popular protests against austerity policies have been seen in France, Italy, Spain and other countries, and government leaders have begun to push back against the European Union's fiscal rules.

But as the international lenders took a hard line in recent talks with Athens, a sense has grown among Greeks that their country is being punished, by being held to tight restrictions while countries like France and Italy were allowed to adopt 2015 budgets that bend or break the rules.

The European part of Greece's bailout program is set to expire on Dec. …

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