Anti-austerity Protesters Block Greek Ministries

Two years after the Socialists scored a sweeping election victory on a pledge to help the poor and tax the rich, the government is struggling to juggle austerity demands from the lenders that saved the country from bankruptcy and protests from voters hit hard by the measures.

Athens admitted on Sunday, when it agreed a draft budget for next year, that it will miss its 2011 deficit target despite a series of tax hikes, pension and wage cuts and a “labour reserve” plan to put tens of thousands of public sector workers on the road to redundancy.

“There is very big turmoil and very deep anger in society,” the secretary general of public sector union ADEDY, Ilias Iliopoulos, told Reuters as he took part in the protest, which blocked several buildings including the Finance Ministry.

“Today’s protests mainly have to do with the labour reserve and firings. But there is also the new budget which brings new measures against the people,” he said, a day before a 24-hour strike by the public sector union and state utility workers.

Protesters also blocked the entrance of other public buildings including the Agriculture, Culture and Development ministries, a police official said. They did the same on Thursday and Friday, when the European Union/International Monetary Fund inspection of Greece’s finances started.

Euro zone finance ministers agreed on Monday that Greece could wait until mid-November to receive the next, 8-billion-euro instalment from its aid programme, piling more pressure on Athens to tackle its debt problems as EU, IMF and European Central Bank inspectors continue their inspection of its finances.

The euro zone ministers are also reviewing the size of the private sector’s involvement in a second international bailout package, a move that could undermine the aid programme and hasten the threat of a default.

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos will hold a news conference at 1000 GMT in Athens, his office said, without providing details on what he would discuss.

The government said on Monday the country will remain in recession next year, threatening its efforts to put its finances back on track and claw its way out of a debt crisis shaking the euro zone, with more belt-tightening looming.

The economy will suffer a fourth consecutive year of contraction, shrinking by 2.5 percent in 2012 after an expected 5.5 percent slump this year, according to the 2012 budget draft. Reuters