Greeks Protest Austerity Steps To Rescue Economy
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Michele Norris.
Today in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with visiting Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. Her message: The U.S. supports his aggressive austerity plan to slash spending and raise taxes. The prime minister came to power last fall, and he inherited an exploding deficit that threatened not only the Greek economy, but the stability of the European currency, the Euro. In a few moments we'll hear from Prime Minister Papandreou, but first, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from Athens on Greeks' response to the new austerity cuts.
ERIC WESTERVELT: It's not every day that 50-year-old Maria Papadopoulou uses garbage dumpsters to block traffic in central Athens, but she's angry; angry at the previous government for getting Greece into this debt debacle and angry at other European states for pressuring Greece to meet its debt obligations. An ex-employee of the formerly state-owned Olympic Airlines, Papadopoulou says she and her colleagues still haven't been paid the government severance they were promised when laid off last fall. She says the current government's latest austerity measures will just mean more suffering, and she accuses the European Union of picking on Greece.
Ms. MARIA PAPADOPOULOU: Everybody is corrupt. What about England? What about France? So, why are they trying so hard to work on Greek people to make them be punctual to pay the money they owe? Why should it be for us and not about everybody?
WESTERVELT: Perhaps because not everybody's debt is nearly 13 percent of gross domestic product as Greece's was in 2009. Countries using the Euro are supposed to keep their debt below three percent of GDP. Employees in the one million strong Greek public sector are seething at the austerity measures. They've already taken nearly a five percent pay cut and now face another round of salary cuts on top of big increases in consumer taxes. A poll over the weekend showed fierce opposition to nearly all of the government's austerity measures. Constantinos Tetradis owns a mini market in the working class Galatsi neighborhood of Athens. He says he doesn't think the latest cuts will work, and anyway, he isn't sure Greeks can handle more economic pain.
Mr. CONSTANTINOS TETRADIS: (Foreign language spoken)
WESTERVELT: Working people can't take much more, he says. Everyone's cutting everything in their lives: eating out, any form of fun, just getting out at all, he says. But in a country where street demonstrations are something of a national sport, the overall response to the latest austerity measures so far has been relatively muted. That could be about to change. The two largest labor unions have called for a nationwide strike and demonstration this Thursday.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Athens.
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