Protests Against Austerity In Greece End In Violence

Tens of thousands of Greeks protested austerity measures Wednesday in a largely peaceful demonstration. But the march broke up after a small band of hooded militants threw rocks and firebombs at riot police, who responded with rounds of tear gas that sent most of the crowd home. Anti-austerity protests have not abated in the two and a half years since Greece received hundreds of billions of euros in bailout loans from the European Union and International Monetary Fund. The protests have brought down two governments and forced new elections, but they haven't rolled back austerity.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. Tens of thousands of Greeks marched in central Athens today to protest harsh austerity measures. Despite dozens of protests in more than two years, no government there has rejected austerity so many Greeks who have seen their incomes drop by up to 50 percent say they'll keep fighting. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: For many Greeks, austerity feels like prison. That's why these protesters are marching with chains on their ankles. Wage and pension cuts as well as tax hikes have come in exchange for billions in bailout loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Those loans have saved Greece so far from defaulting on its sovereign debt. But Alexis Manolis, a mechanic marching with the chained protesters, says austerity is forcing his family into bankruptcy.

ALEXIS MANOLIS: (Through Translator) My salary has been cut in half in the last two years. We're in a constant state of uncertainty about our future.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEAR GAS BEING FIRED)

KAKISSIS: What was certain, at least today, was that the march wouldn't last long. Just three hours after it started, militants wearing masks pelted riot police with rocks and petrol bombs. The police shot tear gas to disperse the crowd. Litsa Trifona, a 60-year-old housewife, covered her face with a white kitchen towel that she had dipped in Maalox, the stomach antacid, to ease the burning. She and her husband, a retired teacher, are about to lose their home. She says Greece would be better off without the euro.

LITSA TRIFONA: (Through Translator) Yes, let's get out of the eurozone. We were just fine before. We definitely weren't any worse off than we are now. It's not possible for things to get worse.

KAKISSIS: Greece is in its worst recession in half a century. Nearly a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, and a third of businesses in central Athens have closed. Yet lenders are pressing the fragile new government, which was sworn in just three months ago, for even more cuts, says Nick Malkoutzis, an editor with the newspaper Kathimerini.

NICK MALKOUTZIS: You have a society that's being torn apart. You know, you have the rise of the extreme right. You have a lot of disaffected people. You have youth unemployment over 50 percent. It's very difficult to know what the consequences will be.

KAKISSIS: Government leaders are sticking to austerity because they believe Greeks will suffer far more if the country defaults and leaves the eurozone.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

KAKISSIS: But the protests here show no signs of abating. And as the protests spread to other eurozone countries, the austerity program that's supposed to save the euro might actually sink it. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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