20,000 Greeks turn out to protest austerity cuts

POLICE clashed with protesters near the Greek parliament as thousands demonstrated against a new wave of austerity cuts.

Security forces fired tear gas after being hit with stones by a small group of protesters who retreated, leaving behind a trail of vandalised garbage bins, bus shelters and stores in the centre of Athens.

At least 14 people were injured, and police said they detained 24.

The incidents were limited compared to previous demonstrations against austerity in Greece, which often turn brutally violent.

The turnout was also smaller than recent street protests, with about 20,000 people participating in Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, according to police.

The protests were coupled with a general strike, which shut down state services, halted maritime and train traffic and disrupted flights.

Greece last year pledged to put its economy in order after taking a €110 billion EU/IMF loan to avert insolvency. However, in 2010 the country failed to meet its deficit reduction goals because the economy shrank faster than expected.

The government has now rolled out a new programme to save some €26bn over three years. It also plans to sell state assets worth €15bn.

Athens’ overall debt has exploded to €340bn, leading to mounting speculation that it will need alternative options to keep up with repayments when the EU/IMF loan runs out in 2013.

Experts from the EU, IMF and European Central Bank are in Athens for a scheduled audit of finances and reforms to determine if Greece merits a critical new €12bn slice of funding from last year’s bailout package.

Senior EU and Greek officials have denied that any debt restructuring is on the agenda, although eurozone officials have begun to admit that Greece is likely to need more aid in some form.

There has been increasing speculation it will need another €60bn.


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