Following the approval of fresh austerity measures in Greece demanded by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to qualify for the next round of bailouts, furious rioters clashed with police and set dozens of buildings on fire in Athens. But despite the ongoing conflicts between law enforcement and protesters, the Greek police union has threatened to arrest senior EU and IMF officials, too.
The latest austerity package, passed by Parliament over the weekend amid massive protests, cuts about one in five government jobs in a desperate effort to keep the international bailout funds flowing. Minimum wage was slashed by more than 20 percent and pensions were cut as well. More budget cuts and tax increases are expected in the not-too-distant future.
Without the new measures, the EU and IMF threatened to withhold almost $200 billion in foreign taxpayers’ money from the Greek government. And with its next bond payments due in March, absent the rescue package, the debt-laden nation would likely be forced to default on its ballooning obligations generated by years of Socialist Party rule and central bank manipulations.
The Greek government is still paying its bills with an international bailout of around $150 billion issued in 2010. And to receive the next round of aid, it must convince creditors — mostly EU governments and the IMF as much of the toxic debt was unloaded on taxpayers in recent years — that it is implementing the promised reforms.
"The question is not whether some salaries and pensions will be curtailed, but whether we will be able to pay even these reduced wages and pensions," Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told Parliament before the austerity vote. "When you have to choose between bad and worse, you will pick what is bad to avoid what is worse."
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Photo of riot police in Athens: AP Images