Trade union protesters yesterday occupied the Greek finance ministry, calling for a general strike as Athens finalized a crucial new loan deal with the EU and the IMF.
Members of the Communist Party-affiliated PAME union unfurled a giant banner from the roof of the ministry on central Syntagma Square, calling for a general strike against a coming wave of additional austerity measures.
“From dawn today forces of PAME have symbolically occupied the finance ministry, calling on workers to rise, organize their struggle and prevent the government’s barbarous and anti-popular measures from passing,” the syndicate said.
Hours earlier, government spokesman George Petalotis had been heckled and pelted with fruit and pots of yoghurt by protesters as he arrived to give a speech at an elder people’s home at the Athens suburb of Argyroupoli late on Thursday.
He was later evacuated by police without injury.
The government blamed the incident on the small Left Coalition party, who has led street protests against the government and whose young leader Alexis Tsipras has famously likened Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou to former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet.
Papandreou was to leave for Luxembourg later yesterday for talks with the eurozone’s head policymaker, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, on Greece’s economic crisis.
Greek newspapers reported yesterday that tortuous four-week talks with the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank for a critical tranche of loan funds had concluded and that announcements were expected later in the day.
Athens needs an installment of 12 billion euros (US$17 billion), part of an overall 110 billion euro loan rescue from the three organizations, to pay next month’s bills.
However, with its economy still in the doldrums, Greece is also trying to broker additional loans from the so-called “troika,” which rescued it from bankruptcy last year.
Additional austerity measures adopted by the government to clinch a new bailout have sparked mounting anger.
Since last week, tens of thousands of Greeks have gathered at Athens’ main Syntagma Square to protest against successive waves of spending cuts and tax hikes that have brought a deep recession and many layoffs.
The country’s main unions on Thursday called another general strike on June 15, the third this year against the government’s economic policies, and a round of mobilizations on Thursday at state companies under privatization.