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Protesters March on Greek Parliament to Protest Wage Cuts and Privatization

September 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The trouble in Greece today and in Spain overnight brought the plight of Europe’s debt-ridden countries squarely back into the spotlight.

Street battles erupted in Athens, as nearly 70,000 people staged the largest demonstration since May of last year.

We have a report from James Mates of Independent Television News.

JAMES MATES: It’s a sight that has become all too familiar in central Athens. A day supposed to have been about a general strike and peaceful protest turned quickly into ugly violence.

The police were prepared, but against volleys of petrol bombs, they could do little more than stand their ground and wait with tear gas and stun grenades to turn the mob back.

This is the first violent protest since a new government was elected three months ago, a government that is forcing through yet another round of punishing spending cuts.

In a country where one in four are already unemployed, perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised that public anger at times tips over into violence. The morning had seen tens of thousands march on parliament demanding the government change course.

They know it’s hopeless, of course. Their leaders are deep in negotiations with Europe and the IMF about cutting wages and pensions by anything up to 30 percent, and this in a city where already one in three businesses has closed.

MAN: We have to do something for our future to have a regular job, to have a family.

MAN: All of Europe should have a voice against these policies.

JAMES MATES: And there will be little reassurance of promises of no more cuts after these.

KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS, Greek parliamentarian: There is no scope for any further reductions in wages and pensions beyond this specific package. This is a commitment that the government has made.

JAMES MATES: The Greeks have been told that before.

KYRIAKOS MITSOTAKIS: Yes, they have been told that before. But should the government not meet that commitment, in my mind, that would mean the end of this government.

JAMES MATES: The protest was brief. It was all over within a couple of hours, but there are many difficult votes ahead now here in the Greek parliament and no one expects that to have been the end of the trouble.

GWEN IFILL: The violence in Athens came hours after police and demonstrators fought in the streets of Madrid, Spain. On Tuesday evening, 6,000 people marched on the national parliament building, protesting new austerity measures. Some threw rocks and bottles, and police fired rubber bullets; 38 people were arrested.