A 24-hour general strike is under way in Greece in protest at the nation’s austerity measures. Flights and ferry services have been canceled, schools, government offices and tourist sites closed, and hospitals are working with reduced staff.
At least 16,000 people have joined protests organized by the main unions in central Athens. The European Commission is discussing ways of propping up banks in Europe to protect them from the Greek crisis.
Thousands of people gathered in central Athens to stage a demonstration outside parliament. Police fired tear gas at small groups of protesters who were throwing stones.
Marco Werman speaks to reporter Menelaos Tzafalias who observed Wednesday’s protests in Athens.
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Marco Werman: A world away from Pakistan there were huge street protests again today in Greece. The demonstrations were part of a nationwide strike that halted planes and trains, closed schools and hospitals and generally paralyzed the country. The crowds were protesting yet another round of wage cuts and tax hikes that the Greek government says are needed to save the nation from bankruptcy. Reporter Menelaos Tzafalias is a freelance journalist in Athens. He says the protests today were led by thousands of government workers who are facing layoffs and growing increasingly frustrated.
Menelaos Tzafalias: They have passed their boiling point. They are desperate. They feel they need to demonstrate, to protest not to change anything but, hopefully, to prevent things getting even worse.
Werman: From a distance, Menelaos, when we hear the news from Greece, the situation does sound desperate. Maybe, you can give us a sense of how these wage cuts and tax hikes are affecting the average Greeks.
Tzafalias: Many families have seen their income drop from 10 to 30 percent these past two years. In some cases, this means they have reached a level where they don’t have enough money to make it through the month.
Werman: So, how do they make ends meet? I mean, how do they even eat?
Tzafalias: The one good thing about Greece is that the family safety net is still there, but many people have seen their way of life change. They don’t go out anymore. They’ve even changed what they eat, and what is moving is to hear families saying that they will have to buy lower quality food for their children.
Werman: And how have the wage cuts and tax hikes affected your own life, Menelaos?
Tzafalias: These past two years I have moved back with my parents and for many people in Greece that’s a situation. Families are living all together again like it was in the ’50s.
Werman: So when you are young and striving to be independent that’s got to be a real blow. How does that make you feel?
Tzafalias: It makes me feel like I did something wrong and I wish I could do something to improve it, but I can’t.
Werman: Who is blaming who here? I mean, do Greeks look at the Euro Zone and say it’s all their fault? I mean, at the same time the Euro Zone is blaming Greece for Europe’s financial mess.
Tzafalias: Greeks did not blame the Euro Zone, but they are starting to blame it now because they are seeing that they are doing all these sacrifices and European leaders are not acting fast enough. At the same time, Greeks demand more of the government. They demand more justice and more accountability. Most Greeks would like the government to become much more efficient and root out corruption in a much better way than up to now. And also collect taxes from tax dodgers; people who keep paying their taxes are at their limits.
Werman: Freelance reporter Menelaos Tzafalias is based in Athens. Thanks very much for speaking with us.
Tzafalias: Thank you Marco.
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