New Prime Minister, Same Old Greek Protesters

Thousands of Greeks are expected to join in a rally in Athens Thursday. The new prime minister has promised to speed up long-term changes. Polls show Lucas Papademos enjoys popular support, but the crowds on the streets have made it clear they won't accept any more austerity measures.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Athens today, thousands of Greeks are out on the streets. Every year on this date, Greeks commemorate a student uprising in 1973 that was violently put down by the then military dictatorship. This year, that rally is being used to challenge Greece's new government coalition. That coalition is supposed to save the country from going off the euro.

Polls show that the new prime minister, economist Lucas Papademos, does have popular support. But unemployment in Greece has doubled in the last two years. And the message from protesters to the new government is the same one they had for the old government: no more austerity measures. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The new government's main task is to safeguard a bailout deal that European leaders agreed to last month. The deal will cut the country's debt and give it more loans. But in exchange, Greece must implement austerity measures. Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Papademos said that dodging austerity would lead to default and an exit from the eurozone.

LUCAS PAPADEMOS: (Through Translator) Whether we're in or out of the euro, our problems will still be there. I firmly believe that the problems will be exacerbated, and handling them will be much more difficult if Greece is not part of the eurozone.

KAKISSIS: Parliamentary deputies from the three parties in the coalition applauded.

PAPADEMOS: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

KAKISSIS: Writer and social commentator Apostolos Doxiadis says most Greeks are tired of years of partisan brawling, and welcome Papademos and the coalition.

APOSTOLOS DOXIADIS: Symbolically, it's a great thing. If it will also be practical depends on how the political class will handle it, whether they will handle it as a real opportunity to change the country, or just as an intermediate step to the next elections.

KAKISSIS: Elections are set for this February, and main opposition leader Antonis Samaras is hoping to win votes by refusing European requests to sign off on the latest bailout deal. Most Greeks want to stay in the eurozone. Nearly all of them oppose the budget cuts and tax hikes of austerity.

GIORGOS ANASTASOPOULOS: (Foreign language spoken)

KAKISSIS: Giorgos Anastasopoulos has a doctorate in anthropology but like many Greeks, he now works odd jobs to pay his bills.

ANASTASOPOULOS: (Through Translator) The way things are now, it doesn't matter whether we stay in the eurozone or revert to the drachma. It's the banks that are the problem. I feel like they're running everything.

KAKISSIS: Austerity, he says, feels like a financial dictatorship. And he'll be on the streets today - the anniversary of the day in 1973 that Greeks fought a brutal military dictatorship.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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