TOPICS > World

Rioting, General Strike Leave Greece in Standstill Ahead of Austerity Vote

June 28, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
The streets of Athens, Greece, were filled with fighting Tuesday over prospects of more spending cuts and tax increases. The violence marred a general strike as the Parliament considers new austerity measures intended to fend off a national default. Independent Television News' Jonathan Rugman reports.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: The streets of Athens, Greece, rang with fighting and fury today over the prospects of more spending cuts and tax increases. Violence marred a general strike, as the Parliament considered new austerity measures to fend off a national default.

We have a report from Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The struggle began outside Greece’s Finance Ministry, where youths threw a hail of bricks and rocks at riot police.

The police responded with tear gas, and the air here was thick with it for hours. Several policemen were injured. And one man was stabbed in a fight between protesters. Greece has a long history of extremist violence. And some came armed with Molotov cocktails, clearly looking for a fight.

But Greece now teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. Youth unemployment is over 40 percent, and the latest austerity measures could make a bad situation very much worse.

The message from these protesters is that they will not tolerate the austerity measures being imposed upon them. And they believe that somebody else should pay.

The day began peacefully, with thousands on the march, this Greece’s first 48-hour general strike in over 30 years — and no wonder — 150,000 jobs could go, amid an economic reform program to be voted on tomorrow, when the past year of cuts is already despised by many.

MAN: I don’t think any — any people with common sense will allow — or will accept, you know, just in less than a year a cut in their wages more than 30 percent and to have at least one or two persons in their family unemployed.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: The crowds bring their gas masks here because tomorrow’s vote in parliament is one of the most important in decades. On the line is 50 billion euros worth of privatization, 28 billion in tax rises and spending cuts, all opposed by those who believe that only the rich should pay.

MAN: The rich people don’t pay their taxes. And this is the problem. The deficit — the Greek deficit from these part of people, not from the people that work.

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Why should the French or the Germans or anyone else pay Greece’s bills, when maybe you should pay?

WOMAN: What, Greek people? Well, the debt is something that we are supposed to pay, but why should poor people pay for this?

JONATHAN RUGMAN: Today’s violence by an extremist minority won’t be the last in this financial crisis.

But what’s perhaps more worrying is that the feeling of hopelessness here seems to be spreading. The national debt is now so vast that Greeks wonder that, even if these austerity measures are passed, will the debt ever be chipped away?

GWEN IFILL: The Greek debt crisis will be a top priority for the new head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde. We will have more on her appointment coming up.