500,000 Hit The Street in London and 200 People were Arrested as Hardcore Anarchists Fight Police (Excerpt)
- Extremists hijack anti-government cuts demonstration
- 84 people injured — and at least 31 police officers hurt on day of violence
- Ritz hotel attacked with paint and smokebombs and 1,000 occupy Fortnum & Mason
- Protesters surge along Piccadilly, Regent Street and Oxford Street forcing shops to close
- Lightbulbs filled with ammonia hurled at police officers
- Labour leader Ed Miliband defends speech to marchers
March 28, 2011
Over 200 people were arrested as extremists brought violent chaos to central London yesterday after hijacking the much-heralded trade union protest against public spending cuts.
A massive clear-up operation was underway today after trouble continued to flare late into the night as hundreds of people clashed with officers in Trafalgar Square.
Police confirmed 201 people were in custody and there had been 84 reported injuries during the protests. At least 31 police were hurt with 11 of them requiring hospital treatment.
The suspects are being held in 21 police stations across London. The Metropolitan Police are now reviewing evidence collected from CCTV cameras and officers. Between 200 and 300 people were still in Trafalgar Square late into the night, with some throwing missiles and attempting to damage the Olympic clock within the square.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said officers had 'come under sustained attack' as they tried to deal with the disorder and attempted criminal damage, with officers using 'containment' tactics in a bid to manage those congregating. The area was eventually cleared by around 2:45 a.m.
'A large number from the crowd are throwing missiles and have attempted to damage the Olympic clock within the square,' he said. 'Officers have come under sustained attack as they deal with the disorder and attempted criminal damage.'All of the injuries were described as 'relatively minor'.
Although much of the debris left by yesterday's carnage had been removed today, Trafalgar Square was still showing signs of what had gone on.
The words 'fightback' and 'Tory scum' were scrawled on one of the four bronze lions, while red paint remained on part of the 2012 Olympics countdown clock.
A placard demanding 'hands off Libya' was placed high on the statue of King Charles I.
John Williamson, 60, a tourist from Whitehaven, Cumbria, said:
'I think it's embarrassing for the country. There's so many tourists here. What are they going to think?'Splinter groups broke off from the main body of more than 250,000 demonstrators marching from Victoria Embankment to Hyde Park to launch an assault on the capital’s main shopping district. Some were hellbent on storming — or destroying — any London landmarks synonymous with luxury or money. Others targeted companies associated with tax avoidance.
Hundreds laid siege to The Ritz hotel, attacking it with paint and smokebombs. A Porsche showroom was also smashed up and upmarket department store Fortnum & Mason was occupied by about 1,000 activists.
On the streets outside, anarchists battled police. Some officers in Oxford Street were attacked with lightbulbs filled with ammonia, a sinister new weapon that can be assembled by following simple instructions on the internet. Other officers were hit with paint and flying bottles.
Scotland Yard commander Bob Broadhurst said of the rioters:
‘I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends. We’ll never have enough officers to protect every building in Central London.’Several splinter groups brought chaos and violence to what was the largest public protest since the 2003 anti-Iraq war rally. In stark contrast, the daytime demonstration was hailed a 'fantastic success' by trade unions as people from across the UK marched through central London.
Organisers estimated between 400,000 and 500,000 teachers, nurses, firefighters, council and NHS workers, other public sector employees, students, pensioners and campaign groups converged on the capital.
Union officials and Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned the 'brutal' cuts in jobs and services.
But during the good-natured protes,t hundreds of activists not connected with the union rally clashed with police in the West End. Officers were attacked as they tried to stop demonstrators smashing their way into banks and shops.
The protesters surged along Piccadilly, Regent Street and Oxford Street, chanting 'welfare not warfare' as they blocked traffic and forced shops to close.
Paint, fireworks and flares were thrown at buildings, while the outnumbered police were attacked with large pieces of wood.
Branches of HSBC, RBS, Santander and Topshop were among those to have their windows smashed.
The police often had to step aside as the activists continued their destruction late into the evening.
Campaign group UK Uncut claimed around 200 of its supporters forced themselves into luxury store Fortnum and Mason — known as the Queen's grocer. A spokesman for the demonstrators said the target was chosen because 'they dodge tens of millions in tax'.
Commander Broadhurst, who led the police operation, added that video evidence would be used in an attempt to make arrests in the coming days.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said he 'bitterly regretted' the violence, adding that he hoped it would not detract from the massive anti-cuts protest.
'I don't think the activities of a few hundred people should take the focus away from the hundreds of thousands of people who have sent a powerful message to the Government today,' Mr Barber said.
'Ministers should now seriously reconsider their whole strategy after last night's demonstration. This has been Middle Britain speaking,' he added.Mr Barber said unions would now step up pressure on the Government, especially MPs in their constituencies, and launch a series of protests next week in defence of the NHS.
Breaking past a small group of police, nearly 1,000 protesters charged into Fortnum & Mason, famed for its wicker picnic hampers and for delivering tea to the Queen. After forcing themselves through the ground floor doors into the area selling luxury cheese and chocolate at around 4pm, the mob ran amok. Afternoon shoppers, among them dozens of Japanese and American tourists, fled up the stairs, followed by police officers who tried to stop the occupation from spreading.
Activists made speeches on the ornate spiral staircase and baskets full of £5 bags of Easter bunny chocolates were pushed over and spilled on to the floor.
Black-clad anarchists, wearing face masks to hide their identity, shouted abuse at customers and launched into tirades about class war. One threatened to attack a customer in a restaurant, outraged that they were carrying on eating salmon sandwiches.
A group of menacing extremists stood under the crystal chandeliers and hung posters from metal stair-rails. They threatened to smash display cases full of luxury goods if the police tried to drag them out. Two others daubed anarchist symbols on the dark pink walls as smartly-dressed shop assistants tried to bring order by restacking upturned shelves. Some activists from the group called UK Uncut, which protests against tax avoidance, helped clean up the mess.
Police finally cleared the store of protesters just before 7pm.
Campaigners claimed they targeted the 300-year-old store because its owners are at the centre of a £40million tax avoidance row. Protesters also occupied Vodafone, Boots and BHS stores on Oxford Street for the same reason.
RITZ GUESTS EVACUATED AS WINDOWS SMASHED
Further along Piccadilly, extremists laid siege to The Ritz hotel. The building was pelted with paint, fireworks and smoke bombs.
Police forced back a hardcore of around 30 protesters, whose faces were covered by balaclavas and scarves, after several of the ground floor windows were smashed. Unable to get inside, they instead daubed the words ‘fat cats’ on the walls and launched paint missiles through open windows on the first floor. Bins and a temporary traffic light were upturned on the street outside.
Around 50 people were evacuated to a function room at the back of the building. Windows of the restaurant’s Rivoli Bar were also pelted with paint while those of Ritz Fine Jewellery were smashed. The famous afternoon tea was cancelled, and walls of the building were daubed with anarchy symbols.
'SMASH THE BANKS' DAUBED ON WALLS
Around 300 extremists tried to storm a branch of HSBC in Cambridge Circus. They threw paint at police officers and smashed windows. Some of the group painted slogans such as ‘smash the banks’ and ‘thieves’ on the building before trying to get inside.
The building was quickly surrounded by riot police and it is thought that one protester was questioned inside.
A Piccadilly branch of Santander was also targeted by rioters who tried to break in. The bank’s glass front doors and windows were smashed and paint bombs were thrown at the building.
'PAY YOUR TAX PHILIP GREEN'
Owned by retail tycoon Sir Philip Green,Topshop was another main target. For several hours shoppers were trapped inside the Oxford Street store as masked protesters pelted police who were defending it with rocks and paint bombs. Elsewhere along the shopping street, black-clad activists smashed windows and left officers ducking for cover and spattered in paint.
Topshop customers — mainly teenage girls — were still going in and out of the front door seconds before the missiles started flying. Many of them were trapped inside as chaos erupted outside.
The protesters chanted,
‘Pay your tax Philip Green’.The tycoon has saved an estimated £285million in tax by paying a £1.2billion bonus to his Monaco-based wife, Tina...
European leaders at the EU summit agreed to a ‘pact for the euro', which commits states to wage restraint; a reduction in public services; limiting government borrowing; and to move away from labour-based taxation towards consumption-based taxation. And by increasing the size of the existing bail-out fund, delivering a big enough permanent bail-out fund and committing to radically pare back the welfare state, the EU hopes to convince markets that they have their economic house in order. - EU summit on 'comprehensive' crisis response to leave loose ends, EUOBSERVER, March 24, 2011
March 24, 2011
Trade union protests outside an EU summit in Brussels against the austerity being imposed across the continent by the bloc turned violent on Thursday (24 March), as riot police battled rock-wielding demonstrators with water cannon and pepper spray.
Four separate marches across the European capital comprising some 20,000 workers, according to organisers, converged on the meeting of European premiers and presidents. Police put the figure closer to 12,000.
The unions are protesting the imposition of the deepest level of economic integration in the EU's history - the delivery of 'economic governance' in the union that will require wage restraint, hikes in retirement ages, public sector cutbacks and limits on government spending, amongst other stringent measures.
"This happens while bankers and CEOs are continuing to receive huge and scandalous bonuses and pay and very little has been done to remove what really causes the crisis," ETUC said in a statement.
"The European trade union movement stands clearly against these policies and states that this is not only unfair because the burden is carried only by the ones who are not responsible for the crisis, but also wrong from a economic and strategic point of view."
Giant banners demanding: "Competitiveness Pact: No. Austerity Pact: No. Solidarity Pact: Yes" were draped by campaigners covering the centre of the roundabout at the top of the European quarter.
[Click here for video.]
The violence kicked off after a few dozen red-dressed members of the Belgian socialist trade union, the General Federation of Belgian Workers (FGTB) attempted to break through police barricades and threw objects at the police.
According to police, 12 officers were injured in the clashes, which shut down traffic on much of the ring road surrounding the centre of the city. By mid-afternoon, the demonstrations had begun to wind down.
Similar actions were due to take place in Spain and Germany, according to trade unions, with a further major more nationally-focussed anti-austerity march to hit London on Saturday.
The demonstrations are part of a series of rolling actions across Europe. On 16 March in Bucharest some 50,000 workers hit the streets, according to the European Trades Union Congress and on 9 April in Budapest, Hungary's six trade unions are to descend upon a meeting of EU finance ministers.
Despite the violence, the protests in Brussels were actually scaled back from what the FGTB had originally threatened. Earlier this month, the union central had said it wanted to shut down air traffic control, the Eurostar train and all highways leading into the capital, but other unions felt such action went too far.
The anger highlights concerns expressed yesterday by one EU diplomat who told reporters that the cuts need to be imposed "as quickly as possible, very quickly when it comes to the most unpopular measures" in order to not get bogged down by such opposition.
EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy denied that economic governance targetted working people:
"To the people demonstrating outside, I say: 'We take your worries seriously, but what we do is not about dismantling social protection. It is about making sure that our economies are competitive enough to create jobs and sustain the standard of living for all our citizens."
Demonstrators stalk Greek ministers across Europe
The protest came after a group of demonstrators invaded an event in the European Parliament on Wednesday evening where the Greek culture minister, Pavlos Geroulanos, was speaking.
A group of young Brussels-based Greeks unveiled a banner denouncing the European Union and the International Monetary Fund during a celebration in Brussels of the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, when Athenians managed to resist an attack by the Persian Empire. Protester Yiorgos Vassalos interrupted a film about the historical event, describing the EU and IMF as an "occupation force" akin to the "barbarians" that fought the Greeks two and half millennia ago.
While organisers were not pleased with the invasion of their event, the protesters received applause from many of those in the largely Greek audience in the packed EU parliament chamber.
In the last week, protestors have organised flash-mob-type actions when Greek ministers have appeared in public in different countries, including interrupting a speech by Prime Minister George Papandreou at Humboldt University in Berlin and an event in Paris attended by deputy premier Theodoros Pagalos.
On Wednesday, the Greek minister of labour, Louka Kasteli, was confronted by a group of angry unemployed workers who shouted him down and took over a press conference in the region of Macedonia. Similar protests trailed visits by Papandreou to the island of Syros last week while Pagalos was also found himself trapped in a taverna for two hours in the town of Kalyvia as a crowd of 500 furious locals hurled insults and yogurt at the MP.
Aris Chatzistefanou a reporter with Skai media group in Greece told EUobserver the anger in the country is boiling over even amongst regular citizens:
"Not a single person from each of the main two parties can walk through the centre of Athens without being assaulted."
"MPs have stopped going to restaurants they used to go to. Not just because they are worried they will be shouted at or attacked. The restaurant owners are telling them not to come because it's bad for business."
World Socialist Web Site
Italian public sector workers strike nationwide
A strike of public sector employees March 12 against attacks on workers’ employment conditions affected the whole country. The strike included workers in transit, airports, utilities, universities, local and provincial governments, social services, tax offices, clinics, ferries and even Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s office, ANSA reported.
Workers marched through the capital, Rome, to defend national contracts against the moves towards separate negotiations, set in the private sector when Fiat imposed plant-by-plant deals on autoworkers.
The USB union told the Italian news agency ANSA, “Many cities are gridlocked.”
A number of unions in Rome attempted to avert a strike in the capital’s public transportation system, but many of their members defied the union tops and walked out. Both of Rome’s subway lines closed and trains were severely disrupted.
One striker told ANSA,
“I can’t understand my union. We don’t know, for example, what agreement they signed yesterday because no one informed us.”
Another worker said, “We are here because the agreements that our unions sign are unclear. We workers are in the dark about everything.”
Public transport workers strike in Athens
Public transport workers in Athens staged a 24-hour strike on Thursday. The employees are protesting plans a reduction in funding and the eventual privatization of the network. Workers struck to oppose the transfer of employees to other departments.
The only public transport available in the city was on buses, as tram, trolley buses, metro and ISAP electric railway staff struck.
Public transport workers have struck more than 10 times since December.
Scottish university lecturers strike against attacks on pension rights
Lecturers in a number of Scottish universities, University of Warwick in Coventry, and the Open Universities took strike action Thursday to protest attacks on their pension rights. The employees, members of the University and College Union (UCU), walked out at Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, Strathclyde, and St. Andrews universities. Some 135,000 students at the Scottish universities are affected by the walkout.
The universities are seeking to reduce pension benefits. Among their proposals is the removal of final salary pension schemes. This would result in workers having to pay more and then receive a smaller pension once retired.
The UCU only reluctantly allowed the strikes to proceed, stating on Wednesday it had gone ahead “despite last-minute efforts from UCU to get university employers’ representatives back round the negotiating table.” The union said it “even launched an eleventh hour effort on the social media web site Twitter to break the impasse today.”
Further strikes are being held on Friday at universities in Wales. Lecturers at universities in Northern Ireland will strike next Monday and in England on Tuesday. A UK-wide strike is scheduled for March 24.
Welsh teachers begin strike over jobs
Teachers at a school in Powys, Wales, are to stage six one-day strikes, beginning this week, due to concerns over compulsory redundancies. The first strike was held on Thursday. The NASUWT union claimed six jobs were under threat at Brecon High School, which has 800 pupils and 45 teachers.
The NASUWT said the school’s governors had overseen financial mismanagement, turning a £100,000 surplus into a projected £650,000 deficit in three years. Head teacher Ingrid Gallagher said “positive action” had been taken to tackle an “anticipated budget deficit caused by reduced funding and falling school numbers.”
Further industrial action is scheduled for March 30 and 31 and April 5, 6 and 7.
Powys council is proposing a shake-up of secondary education, which could lead to a merger of schools and some sixth forms being closed.
Postal works on Isle of Man in pay strike
Manx postal workers have voted in favour of industrial action in a pay dispute. The workers are seeking a pay rise.
A pay freeze has been imposed across the public sector. Chairman of Isle of Man Post Office, Alan Crowe, said the action by workers would not change the freeze on public sector pay.
Jon Joughin, from the Isle of Man Communication Workers Union, has asked the Post Office for renewed talks in order to avoid further strikes.
Newry Democrat journalists strike over job losses in Northern Ireland
Journalists at the Newry Democrat will stage a one-day strike on March 21, in response to forced redundancies at the newspaper, which covers Newry, County Down in Northern Ireland.
The National Union of Journalists served a strike notice on the paper after owners, Alpha Newspaper Group, refused to engage in negotiations over staff cuts.
Four production staff were made redundant a few months after Alpha closed three publications in the Republic. Alpha is owned by Lord Kilclooney, former deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.
Workers at MFG Teo in Ireland strike over pay cuts
A notice to strike was served March 10 on Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltacta Teo (MFG Teo) in County Galway to commence from March 16, over the imposition of pay cuts and the issue of redundancy notices sent to four workers. MFG Teo carries out community development programmes in the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland.
Serbian teachers to escalate protest if wages cut
Teachers, who have been cutting school classes 15 minutes short since January, have announced that they will not hold classes at all as of March 25 if their wages are cut.
Independence Trade Union President Tomislav ivanović told B92 that Education Minister arko Obradović had been invited to talks.
The Education Ministry said earlier that those teachers who continued the strike after February 7 would be paid based on their performance.
Bahraini workers strike and protest state repression
According to thenational.ae web site, workers at Bahrain’s two largest companies, Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) and Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco), began strike action on Sunday. The action came amidst the growing wave of protests against the King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa monarchy.
Sayed Salman, the president of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFBTU), representing 25,000 employees from 70 unions, said, “About 90 percent of Bahraini workers in the trade union or outside responded to the call of the general federation to go on strike”
He added, “We called every single trade union and [the vast majority] of the trade unions said they had already responded to an order to strike”.
The strike was called as thousands of protesters blockaded a main thoroughfare to Bahrain Financial Harbour on Sunday. A number of demonstrators were injured after being attacked by massed riot police firing tear gas and water cannon.
According to thenational.ae,
“The union federation’s primary demand is for ‘better dialogue’ between the crown prince of Bahrain and the protesters”.
The report added that the “union federation is associated with seven political societies involved in the national dialogue initiated by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander.”
Despite GFBTU Secretary-General Salman Mahfoodh insisting that the strike is open-ended, Ali al Bin Ali, the leader of Alba’s trade union, said production at the aluminium plant was not threatened by the strike. The 300 striking workers were from “non-essential” departments, he said.
Bahraini workers protest over unpaid wages
Over 300 workers protested March 10, at a contracting company in Khamis, Bahrain over unpaid wages. This is the fourth such incident since November. The Indian workers at Ali Bin Ebrahim Abdul A’al Holding Company said that they have not received their wages since December and have been told that there is no work for them to do.
One worker, who wished not to be named, said,
“We have been living on donations from friends and acquaintances for the last few months, with no work and no money.
“We have even asked for our dues so we can go back to India, but these have also not been paid. We are only sitting in our labour accommodation and whiling away our time. We have asked to be released so we could look for work elsewhere, but even that has not happened.”
The worker said that only in the last three days had the company organised two meal packets a day for the workers at their Sanad, Ma’ameer and Khamis labour accommodation. Power supply to the Sanad accommodation had also been cut for several weeks and there was a generator in place.
The worker said payments had been irregular for more than a year.
“While we are worried about salaries, we are more worried about our settlements that run into several hundred dinars for each of us,” he said.
Egyptian media workers call for resignation of Mubarak regime loyalists
Hundreds of staff employed by the Egyptian Radio and Television Union staged their third consecutive day of protests March 16, inside the TV Building, demanding the resignation of members of the administration they say are loyal to the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
The employees are demanding the dismissal of Sami al-Sherif, head of the union, because he was a member of the former ruling National Democratic Party, and Abdel Latif al-Menawy, head of the news department, for having distorted the image of the January 25 Revolution.
Television director and filmmaker Ayman Abdel Rahman said Major General Ismail Othman, public relations director of the armed forces, visited the protesters on Monday and listened to their demands. He told them that al-Sherif would stay in office.
The protesters also demanded the formation of a “Board of Trustees” that represents the views of all national political forces.
Strike by Kenya Power and Lighting Company workers
A strike by Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) workers began last week when workers at the Mombasa depot went on strike after management accused them of frequently claiming field trip expenses and tried to reclaim the money. Around 360 of the workers were threatened with disciplinary action if they did not return to work.
The strike spread Monday of this week, when the Kenya Electrical Trades and Allied Workers Union (KETAWU) working for KPLC came out in sympathy.
Around 10,000 workers joined the action. As well as supporting the Mombasa workers they put forward their own demands. These included that agreed pay increases due to be implemented in January should be honoured and an end to the practice of employing workers on casual contracts without reviewing them for long periods. According to the union, some workers had been on casual contracts for more than 10 years. Workers on casual contracts should have them reviewed after 28 days or made permanent.
Two KETAWU officials were arrested by the police when workers picketed the KPLC office in the western Kenya port city of Kisumu. The arrests occurred when police tried to break up the legal picket.
The strike was called off later in the day, when the union met with KPLC management at a meeting chaired by Ministry of Labour officials in Nairobi. Conciliation meetings between the union and KPLC management were due to be held the following day at the Ministry of Labour HQ.
Ghana teachers strike
Teachers under the auspices of the Coalition of Concerned Teachers (CCT) began strike action last week over the introduction of a new Single Spine Salary Structure. While this led to some teachers getting a small rise, other had their pay cut.
Government representatives met with the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) and the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) and offered a 15 percent pay rise as a retention premium.
However, teachers rejected this and put forward demands that the government review teachers’ salaries with a view to offering a substantial increase in salary and payment of allowances to cover rent, transport and other basic expenses. The demands were announced in a press conference held in the city of Kumasi on Monday.
At the press conference the teachers also announced they had no confidence in the GNAT and NAGRAT leadership, calling on them to resign and for the assets of the unions to be handed over to the Trades Union Congress while the union constitutions were reviewed and a new leadership appointed.
Strike by nurses in Swaziland
Nurses in Swaziland took strike action last week. Among their demands were for a salary increase, for wages to be paid on time and the payment of overtime pay, dating back to 2007. The strike resulted in the closure of public hospitals and clinics.
On Monday and Tuesday last week the nurses picketed the health ministry in the capital Mbabane. On March 9 the government won a court order for the nurses to return to work. However, the 400 nurses disregarded the order and continued their strike. At some facilities, the demonstrating nurses were joined by doctors in support of their demands.
Latin AmericaArgentine teachers unions stop work over salary demands
Teachers in two Argentine unions in the northern region of Chaco held work stoppages on Thursday and Friday over salary demands. The Association of Education Workers (ATECH) and the SITECH federation called a 48-hour strike protesting what they termed “a shameful 10 percent increase of wages in March and another equal percentage for the month of August.”
An ATECH statement said the measures were a reaction “to allow us to recuperate the purchasing power devoured by inflation and the freeze and reduction of wages for practically three years.”
ATECH claimed a high level of adherence to the strike in Chaco and other areas, while government spokespeople claimed that participation by the second day was only 5 percent.
Meanwhile, in the northwest, members of the Association of Educators and Researchers of the National University of Tucuman (ADIUNT) have threatened a strike on Wednesday if the government does not respond to their call for a 40 percent raise.Costa Rican public sector workers protest tax plan, inadequate wage hikes
Thousands of Costa Rican workers marched to the Congress on March 10 to protest a proposed plan to resolve the country’s budget crisis on the backs of the working class. The march was called against the fiscal plan, or “paquetazo,” which president Laura Chinchilla presented to the Congress to shrink the nation’s deficit this year.
Marchers shouted, “Jail for the rich that don’t want to pay taxes!” and denounced the “measly salary increase” of about 2.3 and 2.6 percent for public and private employees, respectively, that was unilaterally decreed by the government. The march was around 10 blocks long and blocked traffic along major streets in the capital San Jose. Protesters vociferously expressed their disgust with the fiscal plan, which would raise the sales tax from 13 to 14 percent and impose a levy on private education and health services.
Union tops gave speeches in which they denounced the evasion of taxes by businesses to the tune of US$900 million per year and suggested that the government collect those obligations first before hammering workers.
“We also oppose the intent of the government to freeze salaries, and the accelerated rise in basic food prices, electric bills and public services, that pummel the pocketbooks of the working class,” said Martha Rodriguez of the Social Security Fund Employees Union.
According to the ANP/AFP news service,
“It was the first demonstration against the Chinchilla government, which came to power ten months ago, and the biggest popular demonstration in almost four years, since the multitudinous protests against the TLC [Free Trade Agreement] with the United States that was ratified in a referendum in October of 2007.”
September 30, 2010
- Tens of thousands march on EU's Brussels headquarters
- Strikes and protests in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia and Lithuania
- French government unveils budget cuts of £34 billion
- Demonstrator drives cement truck into gates of Irish parliament
Tens of thousands of people marched through Brussels in a protest against spending cuts in the European Union.
In Barcelona, a general strike turned violent, with officers firing rubber bullets after being attacked by a mob who set police cars on fire.
Thousands of Britons were caught up in the chaos as the Spanish strikers grounded hundreds of flights. Among those affected were Manchester United fans travelling to Valencia for their team’s Champions League clash last night.
Other left-wing demonstrations against austerity measures were held in Italy, Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Latvia.
Fears that widespread industrial action could spread to Britain are growing, with the Government intent on slashing spending by up to 25 per cent in some areas.
New Labour leader Ed Miliband insisted in his speech to the party conference this week that he would not back ‘irresponsible’ strikes. However, he has previously voiced support for the right to strike.
Yesterday’s Brussels march was organised by the European Trade Union Confederation, whose general secretary is John Monks, former leader of the TUC in Britain.
An estimated 100,000 demonstrators in bright red, green and blue union jackets marched through Brussels toward European Union buildings, aiming to reinforce the impact of Spain’s first nationwide strike in eight years. Shops and banks were barricaded and about 150 people were detained, some in scuffles with police.
In Athens, the metro system was shut down by a rail workers’ walk-out and doctors at state hospitals went on a 24-hour strike.
In Dublin, a 41-year-old man was arrested after blocking the gates of the Irish parliament with a cement truck to protest against the massive bailout of the Anglo Irish Bank.
Greece has already been suffering from two weeks of protests by truck drivers who have made it difficult for businesses to get supplies.
Many supermarkets are seeing shortages, while producers complaining they are unable to export their goods.
Greece's government has imposed stringent austerity measures, including cutting civil servants' salaries, trimming pensions and hiking consumer and income taxes.
Several other EU nations are also planning actions.
In Dublin, a man blocked the gates of the Irish parliament with a cement truck to protest the country's expensive bank bailout. Written across the truck's barrel in red letters were the words: 'Toxic Bank' Anglo and 'All politicians should be sacked.'
The union anger was fuelled by the EU’s proposal to penalise member states that have run up deficits.
Union leaders have pledged tough action against the austerity measures, claiming EU workers are becoming the biggest victims of the financial meltdown set off by bankers and traders.
The British Government is on a collision course with Brussels over the radical plans, with the Treasury saying the EU does not have the power to impose fines.
‘The UK is exempt from all sanctions by EU law,’ a Treasury spokesman said.Mr Monks said:
‘There is a great danger that the workers are going to be paying the price for the reckless speculation that took place in financial markets.’At least 40 people were arrested in Spain, where protesters set fire to a police car in Barcelona and tourists watched in horror as demonstrators clashed with riot police.
Ryanair axed 69 flights between the UK and Spain, while easyJet cancelled around half its flights.
In flames: A police car burns during riots in Barcelona as Spanish workers stage a general strike to protest austerity measures
Target: Anti-capitalist protesters vandalize a police car during riots in Barcelona
Bleeding: A demonstrator reacts angrily after being hit by riot police during protests in Barcelona
A protester shows a victory sign during a Solidarity trade union demonstration against budget cuts, in front of the Polish government office, in Warsaw
Mobilised: Picketers march through central Valencia during today's nationwide general strike in Spain
Civil unrest: Police officers coral picketers in Valencia on a strike called by Spanish labour groups, including the two largest unions CCOO and UGT
Greek tragedy: Strikers clash with riot police during a rally in Athens in April - more protests are expected today
Attack: The cement mixer didn't make it past the gates of the parliament building in Dublin
Written across the truck's barrel in red letters were the words: 'Toxic Bank' Anglo and 'All politicians should be sacked'
Demonstrators hold banners as they march down a main boulevard in Brussels
A Spanish Civil Guard officer in full riot gear stands in front of a burning barricade blocking the A-8 highway in the northern Spanish village of Muros del Nalon
March 15, 2011
Dozens of primary and secondary schools are occupied by pupils and students after Greek Ministry of Education released plans to merge schools across the country. In Athens, Crete, Thessaloniki, Trikala, Agrinio, Magnisia, Imathia, Kozani hundreds of students occupied their schools and hanged black flags.
In some areas students together with their parents entered in an angry mood education offices and demonstrated.
Frustrated students say that they will need to cover a one-way distance of 18 km to reach an education institution. Others stress that they will need double time to reach the obvious: the public education!
Teachers oppose the new bill as they see some 4,000 working places in danger.
Locals speak even of economic black out should schools close.
According to the new bill prepared by the Ministry of Education 1,933 schools will merge into 877 by September 2011 descreasing the number of schools by 1,056. Across the country there are 16,000 primary and secondary schools.
The ministry claims that the number of students per class will remain the same: max. 25 in primary education, max 25+10% in secondary education. In the merged schools the number of pupils will not succed the 500.
Teachers, students and parents claim that the mergers will reduce the quality of education.
The new bill that has nothing to do with IMF imposed austerity measures, that means has no economic motives has created a chain reaction as it was expected. Now the labor union of teachers OLME has announced a general strike for March 30, 2011.
On Friday, March 18, teachers will hold a work stoppage at the last three hours of the morning classes and the first three of the afternoon classes.
March 9, 2011
Marina is 24 years old. One and a half years she got her diploma from the School of Economics. No matter how many CVs she sent to several companies, Marina was unable to find a job up the present day.
“I see no way out, no future” she say and turns her head towards the window.Marina is a vivid young woman who sees herself sliding into a phase of depression. She has nothing to do day in, day out. She feels the anger growing inside her.
“Nothing, there is absolute nothing in the job market. Only at a call centre maybe, and yet there, jobs are decreasing too.”She describes how her parents tried to get her a job through friends and friends’ friends. However many small to medium enterprises have closed down in last year or are about to. Frustation is a word that cannot exactly describe how she feels.
Alexandra, 26, is a postgraduate also from the School of Economics. She is married and has a daughter of 3. Alexandra has not worked a single day.
“I wonder, why I spent all these days and nights bowed over my books”, she asks laughing and adds that ”it was all in vain, wasn’t it?”.The tall, blond young woman has always been an example pupil and later a student. I have been knowing her since the day she was born. It was more thn obvious that she would go to the University. What for?
“Even as a hairdresseer I wouldn’t be able to find a job nowadays. Nothing moves. I’m afraid, I ’ll spend my best working years as a mom…”Alexandra will be in desperate need of a job the latest next year, when the boss of her husband will retire and close down the computer shop.
“Unemployment” seems to be the only thing currently recording an explosive blooming in Greece. The markets, the citizens and even the state have dried out of money. According to the data released today by the Greek Statistics Authority unemployment reached 14.8% in December 2010, despite the Christmas shopping period. 41,000 people lost their job last December in comparison to November 2010.
Unemployment in comparison: Dec 10 14.8% – Nov 10 13.9% – Dec 09 10.2%.Among the ages groups, those 15-24 years old are mostly hit by the unemployment: 39 out of 100 people in this group have no job. They are followed by the ages 25-34 (21%), 35-44 (12.2%). In all ages groups, women are in lead with 18.7 out of 100 being witHout a job. Unemployment in men is at 11.9%.
“I’m trying not to think about unemployment. I can’t stand it” says Eleni, 25, a professional nursery teacher.She hasn’t managed to work a single day what she studied and was trained for. She works at a butcher’s shop instead for the last one and a half year. Last spring, she had an offer to work at a nursery school for 3 months. She let the chance slide away out of fear she wouldn’t be able to return to her butcher’s job once the contract had expire. And yet, as customers started to spending less, the butcher who has a big shop had to fire 3 people since the beginning of the year. Elenis wonders, if she should start counting the days…
“There is absolute no state plan to create jobs, no development, that’s horrible”, is her comment as hang up the phone to enter her day swift.All three young women live in Athens, in middle class suburbs. According to Statistics, Athens has an unemployment rate of 14%. The Ionian Islands lead with 23.1% followed by Western Macedonia 17.7% and Central Macedonia 16.5%.
March 1, 2011
You all remember the shocking pictures of a policeman on fire, during the riots at the general strike protests in Athens. Now a video taken on February 23, 2011 and uploaded in CNN “ireporter section” and later on YouTube shows what preceded the hurling of a petrol bomb against the policeman.
The collage picture was posted yesterday in NewsIt
What this video shows is equally shocking and dramatic: As protesters run over Syntagma Square under the sound of stun grenades, a policeman runs over a running protester with his motorcycle. The policeman keeps driving. The other protesters climbing the stairs turn shocked their heads and scream. A second motorcycle with two policemen slides on the square marbles, people scream and a man shouts furiously ”Kill him! Kill him!” . Within seconds somebody hurls a molotov cocktail at the fallen policeman who is immediately set on fire.
Keep Talking Greece
February 18, 2011
Toll barriers on Greek Highways will be lifted today, Friday and next Sunday, February 20, 2011. However the Sunday action of the movement “I don’t pay” will go in effect all over Greece but today’s action only in Peloponnese.
The movement that started two years ago on Athens-Patras highway, has gained power last month, when toll fees increased disproportionally and thus amid a heavy economic crisis and recession. The movement plans a protest rally on March 1, 2011, at Syntagma Square.
February 12, 2011
The movement “No to highway tolls” flares up despite the government threats for criminalizing the acts and promises for fees reductions. Today, Saturday, February 12, 2011 members of the civic movement “I don’t pay” will gather at Afidnes toll booth and protest the turning the refusal to pay toll fees into a breach of the traffic regulations. The meeting is scheduled for 4 pm.
Members of the movement spoke of “anti-constitutional” law and declared that they will take the issue to the court.
A similar action will be organized tomorrow, Sunday, at 2 pm. at the Toll Booths of Leptokariain Pieria, central Greece.
Deputy Minister for Infrastructure, Yiannis Magriotis, repeated that there will be significant reductions in highway toll fees and discounts for those frequently use the highway, as well as ‘generous consessions’ for local communities with electronic tolling.
”When all these happen soon, all reactions will be unjustified”, claimed Deputy Minister for Infrastructure, indicating that the reductions in toll fees will burden the construction consortia and the state (the taxpayers ).Prices Increases of 40%
At the same time, several other civic groups blocked the tickets machines in buses in Thessaloniki and the Metro in Athens, so passengers could not void their tickets.
Despite the increasing movement, the state increased the ticket prices of Proastiakos trains by 40%. As of Monday, a single ticket fare from Kiato to Piraeus will cost € 12 from 8 euros. Monthly cards are up by 30 euros.
All public transport prices went up by 40% , from 1 euro to 1,40 since the beginning of the month. The cheap single ticket fare of €1,20 can hardly be used as bus lines have been cut shorter and thousands of residents cannot reach the Athens downtown using a single bus anymore.
February 26, 2011
“I owe my landlord 6,000 euros” my hairdresser tells me while she tries to handle my unhandleable hair with brush and dryer .
“Now he is forcing me with lawyer either to move out or pay” she says and gazes at me with wide open eyes through the mirror.
Christina (let’s call her Christina) was unable to pay her rent most of the months of 2010. She and her partner saw customers disappear already in January 2010.Earnings 50 Euros per Week
“There were times when we went home with 50 euros in our pockets at the end of the week, after we paid for our parlor utilities.” Christina, 42, is divorced with two teenager children, that need if not clothes, food and school items. “I couldn’t help but set priorities, i.e. feed my children…..” she mumbles.
Christina and her partner Maria opened a hairdresser parlor three years ago in a middle class neighborhood on Athens. They took bank loans that have to be paid back. The economic crisis hit them first, as other Greek mothers set similar priorities: First to feed their children and then to take care of their beauty.
Christina is just one figure in the statistics and data that recently came out about tenants who can’t pay their rent and are threatened with evictions.Record number of evictions in 2011
Greek Daily Ethnos reports that in the first forty days of 2011, a record number of 4,000 applications for evictions have been submitted according to data from the tax authorities. In comparison in the whole year 2010, the number of evictions was 2,388 and the applications 8,426.
The daily stresses that families even with low rent of 300-400 euros per month see themselves unable to pay.
Lawyers and court employees told the newspaper that the number of Greek bad payers is increasing day by day as more and more people lose their job and find themselves without income.
There are increasing reports as well, about tenants or property owners who are unable to pay the building maintenance charges or heating oil. Dozens of cases land to the Greek courts.Homesless in Athens
Meanwhile according to Non-governmental organisation “Klimaka” the number of homeless in Greece has reached 20,000 people, with half of them living in Athens. 3,000 of them sleep on the benches of the Greek capital.
February 25, 2011
That’s not a surprise. We have no money, we receive almost the lowest salaries but we pay the highest social security contributions in Europe. Indeed Greeks are large, modern empty-pocket ”Zorbas” dancing in the streets the whole day long… And night!
Greek daily Ta Nea calculated that out of 50 euros, only 26 enter the pocket and wallet of an employee, while the rest of 24% lands at the registers of tax offices and insurance funds. Employer and employee contributions in Greece formed 34% of the total labor costs compared to 31% within the 25 European Union member countries.
At the same time international luminary economists propose cutbacks in employees’ wages to increase …competitiveness. How about some reductions in the social contributions too, guys?
February 15, 2011
Tension prevailed this morning with aging pensioners fighting against each other and other insurers lashing out at the general manager of Greece’s biggest Social Security Fund, IKA.
Rovertos Spyropoulos made an inspection visit at the Nea Ionia branch, a suburb in western Athens, but the people standing long queues started to shout at him. Many insurer, elderly in the majority, had gone there since 5 in the morning to book a doctor appointment. With the nerves blank and blood pressure really high, some older pensioners even fought against each other.
The torment of IKA insurers has reached unprecedented dimensions after the week long strike of Greek doctors as more than 500,000 appointments had to be cancelled. Furthermore, the newly introduced system of insurers’ service does not seem to run properly.
Chronic-ill insurers remain without prescription medication for more than two months, and the next appointments with doctors are scheduled 6 weeks later.
Rovertos Spyropoulos tried to appease the angry spirits by advising the people to go home and get an appointment via 3-digit telephone number (184), a central service line booking IKA appointments. Apparently Mr Spyropoulos has never tried to use this number, as the average waiting time on phone is 2+ hours.
He described as “logical” the long waiting due to “work overload” and predicted that the hassle will end up in 10 days.
Meanwhile, Fasten your seat belts and stay alive! You fly an old third world airplane!Video: Aging insurers fight with each other
February 24, 2011
The think tank Demos will publish a report next month in which it would say the extent of the youth unemployment crisis is being severely underestimated, with the figure to witness an enormous 23 percent increase on the number of youths that are currently unemployed around the country, the Daily Mail reported.
The report will say that the qualifications of those youths who leave education at level 1 or 2 are “inadequate and offer young people little or no protection from unemployment.”
The warning comes on the day new official figures are due to be published, revealing the number of young people considered to be ‘Neets’ – ‘not in education, employment or training.’
The last figures to be published showed that 1,026,000 16 to 24-year-olds were ‘Neet’ in the third quarter of 2010.
And unemployment figures published last week showed that 965,000 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed, depicting the highest number since the record began in 1992.
Demos is warning that the percentages ranging from 10 to 15 were the norm for youth unemployment in the 1990s, but the recession, and a kind of failure in the education system can change the norm figure to 20 percent.
Greek PM vows to pay back bailout loan
“Young people who spend long periods unemployed at the beginning of their careers work less and earn less throughout their working lives,” said report author and Neet expert Jonathan Birdwell.
“There is a drought of entry-level jobs meaning the door to work is closed to many young people,” he added.
“Those who don’t go to university would normally acquire skills in their first jobs, but the disappearance of these positions means young people are getting hit twice – they get neither a salary nor skills,” said Birdwell.
February 24, 2011
Police fired tear gas near the Greek Parliament yesterday as clashes broke out with stone-throwing protesters during a demonstration against austerity measures, an AFP reporter said.
The confrontation occurred near the finance ministry with police seeking to block protesters from approaching the building as thousands marched in Athens and other major cities in this year’s first general strike against wage and pension cuts.
At least 36,000 people according to police demonstrated in Athens, Thessaloniki and the port of Piraeus to reject economic policies dictated by Greece’s narrow bankruptcy rescue by the EU and the IMF last year.
With the fresh protests against Greek austerity measures yesterday, the country’s Prime Minister insisted that Greece will repay its bailout loan even as it seeks an extension.
“I can guarantee you we will pay it back. The Finnish taxpayer has nothing to worry about. We will pay it back with interest,” Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said during a joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart Mari Kiviniemi.
Mr Papandreou is on a European tour to drum up support for Athen’s case that it should get more time to pay back the massive bailout loan granted by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
In Greece, meanwhile, a general strike paralysed maritime traffic and train services, disrupted urban transport in Athens and grounded flights for several hours.
Hospitals, government offices, banks and schools were also affected.
“I understand the pain ... I sometimes would like to tell the protestors that I would like to be out there protesting with them because I am not happy but we need more than protests,” Mr Papandreou told reporters in Helsinki.
He said that in the past year, his government had implemented 80 percent of the required austerity measures that have sparked such anger in Greece, pointing to reforms of the pension system, local governance and taxation, for example.
Finnish Premier Kiviniemi meanwhile would not say whether she believed a loan extension was a viable option.
“I won’t go into the specifics now but we are ready to make at the European level a comprehensive package,” Ms Kiviniemi said, adding that if an extension were granted, payment could not be postponed indefinitely.
Mr Papandreou was in Berlin on Tuesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the possibility of getting an extension for repayment.Thousands of protesters pour into the streets in London and Manchester, again, to shout their anger at the government's policies, with some clashing with police.
January 29, 2011
The National Union of Students (NUS) and Trade Unions Congress (TUC) joined forces in a protest against the increase in university tuition fees, spending and education cuts, and job losses, with a group chanting "Revolution, revolution", British media reported.
British students and trade unionists broke through police lines in central London and were chased by an enhanced number of police forces to the city center where officers later ''kettled'' a group of angry protesters and arrested six people.
In Manchester, general secretary of the UCU lecturers' union, Sally Hunt addressed the rally, saying that the government was actually at "war with young people" and "betraying" an entire generation.
She attacked the government for raising tuition fees in England to a new upper limit of £9,000 per year and for scrapping education maintenance allowances for college students.
In London, with banners such as "Still angry, still here," protesters sent the message that the campaign against higher fees and university spending cuts had not disappeared.
Saturday's rallies have been the latest in a series of demonstrations and occupations by students.
On the day MPs voted to raise tuition fees, there were angry scenes on the streets of London as thousands of students marched through the capital.
Violent clashes erupted between student protesters and police outside Parliament where police "kettled" them for hours and arrested dozens of people while several others were injured.
A large group of protesters in London left the main venue for the Egyptian embassy on Saturday where they expressed strong solidarity with the Egyptian people in their struggle for freedom and change.
One slogan being brandished in London drew an analogy between international events and the UK, declaring: "Ben Ali, Mubarak… Cameron, you are next."
The protesters were referring to Tunisia where people toppled president Ben Ali's government and to Egypt where people have been coming out in their thousands to demand that president Mubarak relax his grip on power and allow for a fundamental change in the Egyptian society.
December 20, 2010
Newly elected United General Secretary Len McCluskey warned Sunday of massive strikes in Britain at the start of 2011 to protest the austerity cuts made by the British coalition government.
Union leaders will hold a special meeting in January to tackle the planned broad strike movement.
McCluskey agreed with the recent student movement to protest the recent government approval to raise university tuition fees to $13,500 (GBP 9,000) yearly. He said the unions will collaborate with student groups to ensure the anti-cuts campaign would be extensive and send the message to the government that they mean business.
The new Unite leader said it is their duty to the wider society to defend Britain's welfare state against the massive budget cuts made by the coalition government. British Prime Minister David Cameron is aware of the power of the unions and scheduled a Sunday meeting with union leaders.
Over the weekend, the online campaign group UKuncut held demonstrations in over 50 British towns and cities for the government to act on corporate tax avoidance. The group said if the government would be stricter on businesses and plug tax loopholes, the move could raise $37.5 billion (GBP 25 billion) more in taxes, which would reduce the need for spending cuts.
McCluskey, who was elected in November, will officially begin his term Jan. 31, 2011 after outgoing General Secretary Tony Woodley steps down from the post. Unite rules actually state that Woodley should remain as union leader for 12 more months, but he opted to step down ahead because the situation would create a two-headed direction for Unite.
However, Woodley said he will not shift to other unions and will remain with Unite until he retires when he reaches 65.
December 14, 2010
Protesters set fire to cars, threw paint and smoke bombs at the Italian parliament and clashed with riot police today in Rome's worst violence for years after prime minister Silvio Berlusconi survived a confidence vote.
Via del Corso, the main street stretching through the historic centre, near Mr Berlusconi's office and home to some of the capital's smartest shops, was a battle scene of smoke, teargas and bloodied faces.
Smoke rose from the Pincio Hill above the famed Spanish Steps as protesters set fire to private cars, overturned heavy trash bins and prevented fire crews from putting out the flames.
At least 50 people were injured, including several policemen, and more than 40 protesters were detained, police said. The protesters were mostly students but also included workers and immigrants. Television pictures showed dozens of people throwing stones at police, with officers in riot gear beating the protesters back and chasing them among narrow cobblestoned alleys.
"While they are doing their little game in parliament, we are heading towards catastrophe. Where is my future? I don't feel represented by this government, I don't feel represented in my own country," said 19-year old Marco, a university student.The protesters hoping that Mr Berlusconi would fall had wanted to stage a victory demonstration but he survived the no-confidence motion in parliament by a mere three votes. He would have had to resign if he had lost.
Shops were forced to close as protesters, many of them wearing ski masks, overturned tables of sidewalk restaurants, flower vases and parked motorcycles. The protesters smashed bank windows, destroyed several cash point machines and threw chairs and tables at police vehicles.
In the past several weeks, students have been protesting throughout Italy against austerity measures and university reforms planned by the centre-right government, matching similar demonstrations in other countries including Britain.
Students also blocked Palermo airport in Sicily and briefly occupied the stock market building in Milan.
"They haven't done anything. For universities nothing has been done and we are in a situation which is getting worse every day," said university student Valerio Zampani.For many Italians the latest political drama adds to the despondency hanging over their country, but others welcomed the outcome of the vote.
"I think it's better like this because otherwise it wouldn't have worked. At this point in time we need a government that can keep our head above water," said Rome resident Giuliano Marroti.
Italian Students Occupy Colosseum, Leaning Tower of Pisa to Protest Government Cutbacks to University FundingItalian students occupying the Leaning Tower of Pisa drape a banner reading 'No to Reform', protesting at proposals to rationalise university teaching.
November 26, 2010
Students across Italy have occupied buildings all around the country – including two of the its most iconic tourist attractions – in protest at proposed government cutbacks to university fundings.
Thousands of third-level students occupied the Colosseum in Rome and the Leaning Tower of Pisa to demonstrate against the proposals, which the government says are intended to prompt greater efficiency but which students believe will hamper the quality of teaching.
Italian press reports that 2,000 students marched in Pisa, forming a human chain around its renowned Leaning Tower to stop tourists from entering, while another smaller group climbed inside the attraction.
In Rome, meanwhile, students hung banners reading ‘No profits from our future’ from the walls of the Colosseum, while Milanese students were involved in brief conflicts with police as they tried to occupy the city’s metro system.
Other students demonstrated at the parliament buildings, igniting smoke flares and waving banners.
Yesterday’s protests marked the second successive day of demonstrations, rejecting the government’s plan to rationalise the teaching of individual areas of study in order to eliminate duplicity between the country’s higher education institutes.
The move is among the more high-profile austerity measures being proposed by Silvio Berlusconi’s troubled government, but would see thousands of educators laid off with individual regional universities being forced to specialise in certain academic disciplines.
Students say the expected savings of €1.35bn will, however, mark a bitter blow to a third level system they already perceive as weak.
As the protests were ongoing, Berlusconi’s government lost a parliamentary vote on an amendment to the reform proposals, with infighting among his Forza Italia coalition seeing some fringe members defect to opposition benches.
Berlusconi now faces a significant task to save his government before a confidence vote in his leadership is scheduled for December 14.Security forces fear wave of terror as austerity programme provokes strikes, protests, violence – and assassination
August 1, 2010
Greek security forces have warned of a wave of violence reminiscent of the terror that stalked Italy in the seventies after urban guerillas threatened last week to turn the country into a "war zone."
"Greece has entered a new phase of political violence by anarchist-oriented organisations that are more murderous, dangerous, capable and nihilistic than ever before," said Athanasios Drougos, a defence and counter-terrorism analyst in Athens.The threats came from a guerrilla group called the Sect of Revolutionaries, as it claimed credit for the murder of Sokratis Giolas, an investigative journalist. Giolas was shot dead outside his Athenian home on 19 July, in front of his pregant wife.
"For the first time we are seeing a nexus of terrorist and criminal activity," he said. "These groups don't care about collateral damage, innocent bystanders being killed in the process. They are very extreme."
The gang promised to step up attacks on police, businessmen, prison guards and "corrupt" media – and, for the first time, threatened holidaymakers.
"Tourists should learn that Greece is no longer a safe haven of capitalism," its declaration said.In an accompanying picture, the group displayed an arsenal that included AK 47 assault rifles, semi-automatic pistols and brass knuckledusters.
"We intend to turn it into a war zone of revolutionary activity with arson, sabotage, violent demonstrations, bombings and assassinations, and not a country that is a destination for holidays and pleasure."
"Our guns are full and they are ready to speak," it said. "We are at war with your democracy."The terror threat comes as Greek authorities endure a summer of strikes and escalating upheaval. Military trucks and petrol company vehicles were employed yesterday to alleviate a fuel shortage as more 30,000 lorry and tanker truck operators ignored a government order to return to work on pain of prosecution. Shortages were reported on many holiday islands and destinations in northern Greece where thousands of tourists are stranded.
The far more serious scourge of domestic terrorism was thought to have been eradicated in 2004, with the disbandment of the 17 November group.
Born out of the turmoil that followed the collapse of US-backed military rule, 17 November murdered the CIA station chief, Richard Welch, in 1975.
For the following 27 years it targeted Turkish envoys, juntists, US military personnel, industrialists and western diplomats, including a British military attaché in Athens, Brigadier Stephen Saunders, who was murdered in 2000.
Unlike 17 November, Greece's new generation of urban guerrillas has not tried to garner popular support.
The Sect of Revolutionaries emerged from the rioting after a teenager, Alexis Grigoropoulos, was shot dead by a policeman in December 2008. The men and women thought to comprise its closely guarded ranks are in their late twenties and thirties and appear to espouse violence almost for the sake of it.
"We don't do politics, we do guerilla warfare," its members announced in the proclamation placed on the boy's grave within hours of their first attack, on a police station, in February 2009. Two weeks later they sprayed the offices of a private television station with bullets. Three months after that, they claimed their first victim, Nectarios Savvas, a police officer protecting a state witness. Six people have died in separate attacks this year.Last month another group, yet to be named, sent a parcel bomb wrapped up as a gift to the office of Michalis Chrysohoidis, the minister in charge of public security. It killed his chief aide.
The surge in violence comes amid rising social tensions over the austerity measures enforced by the government in exchange for €110bn in emergency aid, the biggest bailout in history.
Mounting social unrest, waning support for political parties, and record levels of unemployment among an increasingly radicalised youth are believed to have augmented the ranks of anti-establishment groups.
"The economic crisis has most definitely played a role in aggravating the violence," Chrysohoidis told the Observer. "And the violence we are seeing is worst than ever before because society as a whole is more violent than ever before."To date Chrysohoidis, who oversaw the break-up of 17 November during a previous stint in the same post, has ordered police to tread a fine line.
But anger is growing. Security officials say it is only a matter of time before one of the three groups currently active in Greece strikes again.
More worrying, they say, are their connections to the Balkan criminal underworld that has made access to weapons dangerously easy.
"In other European countries, home-grown terrorism has been on the decrease for years," said Drougos. "But in Greece the situation is not unlike pre-Bolshevik revolutionary Russia or Italy at the start of the terror campaign by the Red Brigades… it's very unpredictable and tourists should be vigilant."
November 24, 2010
Police officers were seriously injured today as angry demonstrators protesting against the hike in tuition fees again brought chaos to the streets.
Around 10,000 students and protesters flooded London for a new demonstration just a fortnight after anarchists unleashed mayhem at the Tory Party headquarters. More than 25,000 students in total are believed to have taken part in protests across the country today.
Scotland Yard, determined not to be caught on the hop a second time, ensured hundreds of officers were on duty and quickly reinforced numbers as flashpoints developed. One constable suffered a broken arm and a second officer was knocked unconscious as he battled to contain protesters outside the Foreign Office. He injured his leg and was taken to hospital. Six members of the public were also taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Huge crowds had attempted to break the security cordon outside the building but the line of police was quickly bolstered to ensure the barricades were not breached. Demonstrators were tonight being held in a section of Whitehall, using the controversial practice of 'kettling' despite criticism of previous attempts at using the strategy.
Earlier, a Metropolitan Police van parked in the middle of Whitehall was targeted by youths who leapt on the roof, smashed the windscreen, hurled sticks and sprayed graffiti. Witnesses said a smoke bomb was thrown inside the van as protesters, some covering their faces with scarves, hit the windows with wooden sticks.
Student Zoe Williams tried to intervene when youths started rocking the van from side to side but was given short shrift. She said later:
'Some kind of anger and aggressive behaviour can show the Government that we are not joking around and will just let them do it [hike fees] anyway but showing we're this violent and ready to take it to this level is detrimental.Fireworks were let off nearby, greeted by cheers and whistles, as lights were smashed. There had been fears of serious injury when it was rocked and came close to toppling over.The van was abandoned a short distance from the Royal United Services Institute where Met boss Sir Paul Stephenson has been giving a speech on terrorism. Students eventually managed to break inside the vehicle and looted police uniform and equipment, including body armour.
'A lot of people aren't here to support the cause, they are doing it to have a day off school and be rebellious and burn stuff. It really does dampen the efforts of other people.'
So far, three people have been arrested for violent disorder and theft and six members of the public have been treated for injuries.
Tom Lugg, 23, studying mental health nursing at Kingston University, Surrey, said:
'It shows the young people of Britain are pretty angry.The clashes came as newly elected leader of Unite, Len McCluskey, hailed the 'poll tax spirit' and called for a growing 'resistance' to spending cuts. Mr McCluskey said the TUC had to 'co-ordinate' the anger that was building against the Government'. He argued:
'I don't agree with what some of them are doing but we have to empathise. Why should the next generation have to pay more? The Tories are hitting working families, just like they did with the Poll Tax.'
'The very fabric of our society is being dismantled before our very eyes and we have a duty to lead a resistance against this attack. It is slaughter by stealth.'The lifelong activist refused to rule out anything over plans for fight the cuts, adding: 'I don't believe we should have an objective of bringing down the Government - that would be dangerous - but I do believe that when people come together, anything is possible.
'I am delighted that people are talking about the poll tax spirit because there we had a prime minister at the top of her power, with a big Commons majority, who was brought down by people power.In other areas of Whitehall there was a party atmosphere, with students jumping up and down to dance music as helicopters hovered overhead.
'We need to demonstrate to people that we are dealing with a Government that does not have a mandate, that is living a lie and has deceived the people.'
The protest has been dubbed Day X, with parents, teachers and trade unionists invited to join students.
Many of the rallies have been organised by the Education Activist Network and the campaign group Youth Fight For Jobs.
A delegation of students were due to present a letter to Nick Clegg expressing their disgust over the Lib Dem U-turn on fees and his office in Sheffield is also likely to be targeted.
The letter reads:
'No amount of twisted reasoning from either you or Vince Cable can hide what everyone can see: you have lied to us.Such is the fury at the Lib Dems change of heart that Mr Clegg has been warned not to cycle to work in case he is attacked.
'We call on you to withdraw LibDem support for Conservative cuts to our education system, or face the disappointment and anger of a generation that has been betrayed.'
Protesters had also shown their anger last night by hanging an effigy of the Deputy PM on the gallows and chanted: 'Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue.'
By mid-afternoon, police had given up trying to disperse the crowds and decided to contain them in Whitehall. A Scotland Yard spokesman said:
'There is a containment on Whitehall to prevent further criminal damage and we will look to disperse anyone being held as soon as we can, when we can ensure that no further damage will be committed elsewhere.'Jenny Jones, a member of the Met Police Authority, questioned their methods. She wrote on Twitter: 'Police have kettled demo. Mad. Just makes crowd distressed.'
University workers have organised simultaneous rallies in Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and Cambridge.
In an early sign of trouble elsewhere, around 50 students stormed the Great Hall at the University of Birmingham this morning after security had tried to force them out.
In Sheffield, around 1,000 students gathered in the city centre, many from schools as well as the two universities.
There were reports of pupils walking out of a number of secondary schools before gathering at Sheffield University Students' Union. Many in the crowd appeared to be of school age, some as young as 13 or 14. A line of police guarded the front of the Victorian town hall as the crowd chanted and waved placards.
In Manchester, where several thousand protesters had gathered, a group of several hundred broke away from the main demonstration and headed towards the town hall. Around 3,000 protesters had made their way from Manchester University student union shouting 'No ifs, no buts, no education cuts'.
In Cambridge, more than 200 students scaled a fence of the Senate House - a building reserved for graduations - and marched into the grounds of King's College shouting and waving placards. Bystanders reported a huge police presence and said officers were using batons and their fists to push back the students.
Around 3,000 people staged a noisy but peaceful protests in Liverpool.
There were some minor scuffles between protesters and police in Bristol, where around 2,000 people joined a demonstration. About three dozen police officers were blocking the entrance to the town hall, where protesters were sitting down reading books. Horses being ridden by mounted police were spooked by a firework.
Youth Fight for Jobs spokesman Paul Callanan claimed the fees hike will create a two-tier education system.
'Education will become a privilege for the few that can afford it,' he said.Mark Bergfeld, of the Education Activist Network, said:
'We're there to build a mass movement, we're there to build a movement which can overcome the divisions between the different people, between the different sections of society and actually start to generalise the fight against austerity.'Police monitored all information sources in a bid to avoid a repeat of the violence two weeks ago, which saw Millbank overrun.
Government plans to raise fees up to as much as £9,000-per-year from 2012 have caused outrage, particularly to the Lib Dems who had promised to oppose any hike during the election.
Parliament is due to vote on the increase before Christmas, with several top Lib Dems still likely to vote against despite Mr Clegg supporting the Tories over the change. The Lib Dem leader insisted again today that he 'massively regrets' his U-turn after pledging to stop fee rises but urged students to examine the fine print. Asked how it felt to have students hang him in effigy, the Deputy PM told the BBC's Jeremy Vine:
'I'm developing a thick skin.'
He said: 'I regret of course that I can't keep the promise that I made because - just as in life - sometimes you are not fully in control of all the things you need to deliver those pledges.
'But I nonetheless think that when people look at the detail of these proposals (they will) realise that all graduates will be paying less per month than they do at the moment and the poorest quarter will be paying much, much less and we will be making it easier for some of the youngsters currently discouraged from going to university to go to university.
'I hope that over time - perhaps not overnight - people will say "OK, this was controversial, it was difficult for the Liberal Democrats, but actually they have put something into place which will finally allow our education system to do something which it hasn't done for generations, and that is to promote rather than thwart mobility."'
October 4, 2010
By foot, bike and devious new routes, London commuters scrambled to get to work Monday during a one-day strike by the city's subway workers. At least it wasn't raining very hard.
Thousands of maintenance workers, drivers and station employees walked off the job Sunday evening for 24 hours to protest 800 planned job cuts, mostly among station staff.
Transport for London, which runs the Underground — known as the Tube — says there will be no compulsory layoffs.
More than 3.5 million people use the Tube daily.
Officials claimed that they were able to run 30 percent of normal services, although some lines were shut down and some stations were closed.
Commuters who normally commute by the Tube coped by switching to buses, bikes or just walking; or some found their way to work by improvising new routes on trains and other transport. The weather helped: heavy weekend rains gave way to drizzle Monday morning.
"It is very annoying," said banker Ben Gilbert, 34, whose normal 35-minute travel time stretched to an hour on Monday. "Everyone knows the strikes cause absolute chaos. They shouldn't really be allowed to do it."But Chris Brown, 55, an IT support worker, expressed some support for the strikers.
"I am completely split down the middle. It is an inconvenience, but I do sympathize with what they are trying to achieve."Referring to the government's plans for sharp cuts in spending, Brown said "more strikes will come" if cuts lead to job losses.
Among those expressing outrage over the Sunday-Monday action was London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Johnson said the strike was "a nakedly political act" timed to coincide with the annual conference of the Conservative Party, which leads the coalition government.
"It has nothing whatever to do with health and safety — nor have the union leaderships raised any such fears in the course of the negotiations," Johnson wrote.The Conservative mayor said London's automated fare system — the Oyster card — had reduced the need for ticket office staff. Some stations are now selling fewer than 10 tickets an hour, Johnson said.
Bob Crow, leader of the RMT union, said strikers were fighting against "the same cuts that Johnson opposed before he was elected London mayor."
October 28, 2010
College tuition costs shot up again this fall, and students and their families are leaning more on the federal government to make higher education more affordable in tough economic times, according to two reports issued Thursday.
At public four-year schools, many of them ravaged by state budget cuts, average in-state tuition and fees this fall rose 7.9 percent, or $555, to $7,605, according to the College Board's "Trends in College Pricing."
The average sticker price at private nonprofit colleges increased 4.5 percent, or $1,164, to $27,293.
Massive government subsidies and aid from schools helped keep in check the actual price many students pay. But experts caution that federal aid can only do so much and that even higher tuition is likely unless state appropriations rebound or colleges drastically cut costs.
"Just when Americans need college the most, many are finding it increasingly difficult to afford," said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education.When adjusted for inflation, the tuition increases this fall amount to 6.6 percent at public four-year colleges and 3.2 percent at private ones, according to the College Board.
Many students are finding relief in expanded federal aid, including tax credits, veterans' benefits and a record expansion of the Pell Grant program for low-income students. In 2009-10, 7.7 million students received $28.2 billion in Pell Grants - an increase of almost $10 billion from the year before, according to a companion College Board report, "Trends in Student Aid."
Even so, the maximum Pell grant covers just 34 percent of the average cost of attending a public four-year college, down from 45 percent two decades ago.
Students 'paying less'
For now, government subsidies and aid from schools are helping hold down net tuition and fees — the actual cost students pay when grants and tax breaks are factored in.
Estimated average net tuition and fees this fall at public four-year colleges were $1,540, while at private colleges they were $11,320. Both are up from last year, but below what students paid five years ago.
"Despite the fact sticker prices have gone way up, there is so much grant aid out there that many students are really paying less than they did before," said Sandy Baum, a senior policy analyst for the College Board and a Skidmore College economics professor.That's also contributed to a growing gap between those who receive aid and the one-third of full-time students who pay full freight for college, the report says.
Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said it's important to note that tuition is climbing after a decade in which family income did not rise for 90 percent of Americans, and at a time when many areas of the country face high unemployment.
"We're kind of on a national treadmill," Callan said. "We're putting additional aid in that is helping to buffer some students from the severity of this. But the tuition increases and the bad economy are raising the need for financial aid much faster than our investment in aid is moving."The student aid report found that grant aid per full-time undergraduate student increased by an estimated 22 percent from 2008-2009, while federal loans increased 9 percent.
The Obama administration's restructuring of the federal student loan program this year will direct more money to Pell Grants and tie future increases in the maximum grant to inflation.
But college officials say the impact will be minimal because next year's increase is small and tuition is rising faster than inflation.
Most students attend public schools, and states continue to cut appropriations.
After adjusting for inflation, per-student state spending on higher education dropped by nearly 9 percent in 2008-09 and by another 5 percent in 2009-10 — and that spending includes soon-to-expire federal stimulus money.
Community colleges, which educate about 40 percent of college students, remain affordable, with tuition averaging $2,713. Lower income students receive enough aid to attend essentially for free.
Still, tuition rose 6 percent at public two-year colleges. State and local budget cuts paired with skyrocketing enrollment have prompted some schools to cut courses and limit enrollment.
The priciest private colleges are creeping closer to shattering the $60,000 ceiling in total cost to attend.
David Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, emphasized net tuition and fees have declined 7.4 percent in the past decade in inflation-adjusted dollars because colleges are expanding student aid.
"Every institution that I talk to understands the absolutely critical role of aid and it's going to be the thing they try to hold at the top of the list of priorities," Warren said.On average, about 55 percent of bachelor's degree recipients at public colleges borrow money, and their debt is $19,800 by graduation, the College Board found.
November 10, 2010
Tens of thousands of students marched noisily through London on Wednesday against plans to triple university tuition fees, and some tried to occupy the headquarters of the governing Conservative Party, in the largest street protest yet against the government's sweeping austerity measures.
Organizers said 50,000 students, lecturers and supporters were demonstrating against plans to raise the cost of studying at a university to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) a year — three times the current rate.
Violence flared as a handful of people smashed windows in a high-rise building that houses Conservative headquarters, as others lit a bonfire of placards outside the building.
Office workers were evacuated as several dozen protesters managed to get into the lobby, chanting "Tories Out," while outside police faced off against a crowd that occasionally hurled food, soda cans and placards.
"We are destroying the building just like they are destroying our chances of affording higher education," said Corin Parkin, 20, a student at London's City University.Organizers condemned the violence.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of faculty group the University and College Union, said "the actions of a minority, out of 50,000 people, is regrettable."
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
"I am here because it is important that students stand up and shout about what is going on," said Anna Tennant-Siren, a student at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, said: "Politicians don't seem to care. They should be taking money from people who earn seven-figure salaries, not from students who don't have any money."Frances O'Grady, of the Trades Union Congress, said the hike would make colleges "no-go zones for young people from ordinary backgrounds."
"This is about turning colleges and universities from learning institutions into finishing schools for the rich," she said.Britain's Liberal Democrats, who are part of the coalition government with the Conservatives, pledged during the country's election campaign to abolish fees.
Protest leaders said they would attempt to use recall powers to oust lawmakers who break campaign promises on the issue.
The National Union of Students said it would try to recall legislators from the party who vote in favor on the hike.
"We will not tolerate the previous generation passing on its debts to the next, nor will we pick up the bill to access a college and university education that was funded for them," said union president Aaron Porter.While British tuition fees are modest compared to those at some U.S. colleges, British universities are public institutions. Opponents of the tuition increase have pointed out that Prime Minister David Cameron and other members of the government attended elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge at a time when university education was free.
The previous Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair introduced the first fees for students soon after it was elected in 1997. Scotland abolished tuition fees in 2000, and in the rest of Britain the cost is capped at about 3,000 pounds ($4,800) a year.
Prime Minister David Cameron's government plans to triple that and cut funding to universities as it strives to slash 81 billion pounds ($128 billion) from public expenditure over the next four years.
September 23, 2010
French unions stage another day of protests and strikes Thursday, hoping to bring more than two million onto the streets to defy President Nicolas Sarkozy's plan to hike the retirement age from 60 to 62.
Sarkozy, already under attack from the European Union for deporting Roma and from the media over a lingering financial scandal, is facing fierce opposition to his pension reform plans, but says he will press on regardless.
The issue is central to both his reform programme and his personal political survival strategy, with less than two years to go before he seeks re-election.
But the pension reform bill has already been passed by France's lower house of parliament and will be debated from October 5 by the upper house, the Senate, where it is expected to pass comfortably.
Walkouts will hit schools and transport hardest, with only around one train in two running nationally, although Eurostar services to London and Thalys trains to Brussels are predicted to be normal.
The rail slowdown started on Wednesday evening and was expected to continue until early Friday.
Fifty percent of flights at Paris Orly are to be cancelled and 40 percent at the capital's Charles de Gaulle airport -- more than the 25-percent cancelled on September 7, said the DGAC civil aviation authority.
Around 40 percent of flights at other airports will be cancelled, it said.
French men and women can under current rules retire at 60, but they only get a full pension if they have paid social security contributions for a given period, which for most people now in work is 40.5 years.
Under the new law, the number of years needed to get a full pension is due to increase in stages to 41.5 years, and the minimum retirement age is to go up to 62.
The age at which retirees can get a full state pension even if they have not paid the required number of years is currently 65. The new law calls for this to increase gradually to 67 by 2018.
Unions and opposition politicians say the plan puts an unfair burden on workers, particularly women, part-timers and the former unemployed who might struggle to hit the 41.5 year requirment.
They have made counter proposals including calls for taxes on certain bonuses and on the highest incomes to help fund the pension system.
The government argues that the reform could save 70 billion euros (90 billion dollars) by 2030 at a time when France's public deficit -- at around eight percent of GDP -- is well above the eurozone target of three percent.
December 17, 2010
Rasha had a simple dream when she left Gaza's al-Shati camp a month ago.
"Job, food, house," she says. "Or at least hope for this."Europe, she had heard, was full of hope. So Rasha, 25, and her husband Ali, 31, sold their belongings and borrowed from friends and relatives to pay a smuggler nearly $2,000 to help them and their 4-month-old son Yusef get there. One November night, they crossed the Evros River that marks the land border between Greece and Turkey. At dawn, Greek police found them at a dilapidated train station and sent them to the Fylakio detention center near the northeastern Greek city of Orestiada.
After three days at the center, which Rasha says was so crowded with migrants that she couldn't see the floor, the family got out. Now they're outside Fylakio waiting to board a bus bound for Athens, where they know no one.
"I am hoping," says Rasha, as Ali holds their exhausted son. "And I am so happy."(See pictures of immigration in Europe.)
Considering the rise in migrants traveling to Greece, and the poverty and bureaucracy that keeps them stuck there, Rasha's optimism might soon disintegrate. So far this year, more than 90% of illegal migrants to Europe have entered through Greece, according to Frontex, the E.U.'s border-patrol agency. Until recently, Italy, France and Spain were the most popular entry points for illegal immigration into the continent. But increased coast-guard patrols in the past couple of years have blocked routes by sea, forcing migrants to find a new way in.
"Smugglers were being arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned, so criminal networks shifted their route to this area around Orestiada," says Frontex spokesman Michal Parzyszek.
Alarmed by the sudden influx of illegal migrants pouring into Greece, the E.U. sent Frontex forces to Orestiada in November to help Greek police patrol an especially troublesome eight-mile (13 km) section of the 128-mile (200 km) land border between Greece and Turkey. Some 31,400 people crossed just that portion of the border in the first nine months of 2010 - more than the number of illegal crossings through all of the Canary Islands in 2006, a peak year for immigration to Spain. (Read about how the economic crisis brought about a Greek-Turkish thaw.)
Frontex says almost half of the migrants say they're Afghans, who pay smugglers around $3,000 to help them escape a country where per capita income is only $900. But for Jamir Khan, 22, it wasn't money that sent him to Greece - it was war. The skinny, tough car mechanic from Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan - a place he describes as "all fight, all the time" - learned his trade in Manchester, England, where he lived illegally for a few months about four years ago.
Then police raided the house he was sleeping in and deported him.
"I told them, 'Give me a chance! I'm not a Talib! I am working!'" he tells TIME. "I told them I was going to come back."True to his word, he arrived at the Fylakio detention center in mid-November after his family took out loans to pay a smuggler $3,000. He's broke, so he's walking nearly 600 miles to Athens.
The journey to Orestiada is not without its dangers. Scores have died crossing the border from Turkey over the years, many while trying to get to the other side of the Evros River. According to Frontex, at least 44 migrants have drowned there this year. That's nearly twice as many as the number that died last year, says Mehmet Serif Damadoglou, the mufti of the mixed Christian and Muslim prefecture of Evros. He buries the dead in a makeshift cemetery on a hill near his village of Sidero.
Surrounded by 140 small mounds of dirt, each marking a grave, Damadoglou recalls meeting the distraught parents of a 16-year-old Somali girl who drowned in the Evros this summer. He remembers how the mother hugged the earth that held her daughter's body.
"They could not swim, but they were trying to because their small inflatable boat overturned. The last time [the mother] saw her daughter, she heard someone yell, 'Help! Help!' and then the river took the girl away," Damadoglou says, sighing. "They came here to visit her and pray." He says he cringed when they told him they were heading to Athens to find jobs. "It's very hard in Athens, because right now even the Greeks don't have work," he says. "Migrants can fall into an abyss there and never get out."(See pictures of economic-driven riots in Greece.)
Though most migrants go to Europe through Greece with the hopes of traveling on to countries like Sweden or Britain, where jobs and benefits are more plentiful, many run out of money and find themselves trapped in Athens. That's what happened to Tahar Zarouk, a 33-year-old Tunisian from the southeastern city of Medenine. He subsists on a free daily meal of soup, salad and bread prepared by the capital's Greek, Anglican and African churches. The food is distributed in a drab courtyard on Sophocleous Street, a drag in central Athens infested with drug dealers. He sleeps in a nearby alley and says he's been beaten up several times by anti-immigrant thugs. Standing in a food line on a damp December day, Zarouk says he's desperate to work.
"Every day, Greeks tell me to leave," he says. "But I have no money. Where am I supposed to go?"
Others wait in Athens for asylum that will likely never come. The U.N. says Greece has more than 52,000 asylum requests waiting to be processed. Only 0.3% of those applications are granted, compared with an average of 31% in Britain, France, Germany and Sweden, the U.N. says.
Jobless and often homeless, migrants face increasing hostility from Greeks despairing over the country's rising unemployment. Supporters of the far-right, anti-immigrant group Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn) regularly trawl through some central Athens neighborhoods brandishing clubs and beating up homeless migrants. In a troubling sign that relations between Greeks and migrants are souring further, Athenians elected Chrysi Avgi's president to the city's municipal council in October.
"It's disillusioning for them, to see the Europe of their dreams be like this," says Father Jimoh Adebayo, a Nigerian minister who helps at the food line on Sophocleous Street. "They have sold everything back home and they see that here, there is nothing."Adebayo says he sees more people in the food line every week, including Greeks who have lost homes or jobs. (Read "Greek Voters Give Austerity Plan a Second Chance.")
But Rasha knows none of this as she's leaving the Fylakio detention center and boarding the bus to Athens with about 80 other migrants. The Greek bus driver wears rubber gloves to handle their tickets; the seats are covered in plastic wrap. Tickets cost 60 euros, or $80, each, but Rasha can pay - she stashed euros left over after paying the smuggler in a money belt she wore under three layers of clothing.
"Ali and I will have jobs, maybe at a shop, and we will have a little house, and the baby can sleep," she says.As the bus pulls away, Rasha waves through a window. She's the only one smiling.
October 27, 2010
As the world watches Greece wrestle with its crushing debt and crippled economy, the country is quietly struggling to manage another burgeoning crisis: the dramatic influx of illegal immigrants crossing from Greece into the European Union. Officials say Greece receives about 85% of Europe's total illegal immigrants, many of them coming through Turkey. Now it doesn't know what to do with them — or how to stem the flow.
So at Greece's request, the E.U. took the unprecedented step on Tuesday of agreeing to deploy border guards to help the country police its land border.
"We could not handle this situation alone anymore," says Christos Papoutsis, Greece's Minister of Citizen Protection. "We don't have the centers to house the people, we don't have the staff to help them."Greece and Frontex, the Warsaw-based agency that coordinates the patrolling of the E.U.'s external borders, are still working out the details of the deployment, including the number of guards — who will be armed — as well as when they will arrive. But both Papoutsis and a spokeswoman for the E.U. Commission, the 27-nation bloc's executive arm, say the guards — who are part of the so-called rapid-intervention force — will operate under Greek command — and that the deployment will happen "as soon as possible."
This will be the first time the rapid-intervention force has been deployed since it was created in 2007. And in another sign that the E.U. is taking the migration influx into Greece more seriously than ever before, earlier this month Frontex opened a regional center in the port city of Piraeus, the agency's first office outside of its Warsaw headquarters.
Though the number of illegal migrants entering Europe has decreased overall, the number of illegal crossings along Greece's land border has gone up, according to Frontex. Greece was the point of entry for about 90% of illegal border crossings into the E.U. in the second quarter of this year, compared to 65% in the first quarter. The E.U. Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmstroem, said in a statement on Oct. 24 that the number of illegal immigrants at the Greek land border with Turkey has "reached alarming proportions," adding that "Greece is manifestly not able to face the situation alone."
Malmstroem pointed out that one hotspot for illegal crossings is an eight-mile stretch near the northeastern Greek town of Orestiada.
"Every day, we have more than 300 people trying to enter illegally along this area," says Greek minister Papoutsis. "In relation to the size and population of Greece, that is essentially like adding an entire new village to the country every day."One reason so many migrants are now trying to cross through Greece is the increased sea patrols off the coasts of Spain and Italy, countries through which many North African migrants had slipped into the E.U. in the past. Libya has also stepped up its sea patrols, cutting off another well-traveled route into Europe through Sicily and southern Italy.
Many of those who have made their way into Greece identify themselves as Afghans and often ask for asylum, though few have identification. Frontex has noted a six-fold increase in the number of Afghans who sought to cross into Greece illegally in the second quarter of 2010.
Because few illegal immigrants have papers, it's hard to repatriate them. For those asking for asylum, the process could keep them waiting in limbo in Greece for years. This summer, the country had a backlog of some 52,000 asylum claims waiting to be processed, according to the United Nations. Greece itself is partly at fault for the backlog, since asylum requests are funneled through one central, understaffed office. Papoutsis says the government is now drafting a law that would help make the evaluation of asylum requests more efficient, including adding offices to speed up the process.
But in its quest to get a handle on the flood of illegal immigrants, Greece also has an E.U. rule called the Dublin Regulation adding to its troubles. Under the law, countries can send asylum seekers back to the country through which they first entered the E.U. — and these days, in most cases, that's Greece. Stavros Lambrinidis, a Greek member of the European parliament who works on asylum and border issues, and other E.U. leaders are calling for changes to the regulation that would, among other things, stop the practice of sending asylum seekers back to already overwhelmed countries such as Greece.
"Greece is the main entry point now, so everyone stays here," he says. "But the rest of Europe must help and take people in, because the pressure on Greece is enormous right now. It's in the best interest of everyone, especially the asylum-seekers."Lambrindis and Papoutsis also hope neighboring Turkey will help the Greeks break up the human-trafficking rings that smuggle people into Europe. But in the meantime, Greeks are focusing on the immediate problem — stopping illegal migration across their land border — before increasingly fragile relations between migrants and citizens deteriorate further. "Greeks are already worried about jobs, the decreasing quality of their lives in this bad economy," says Papoutsis. "They are afraid. And I don't want the xenophobes in this country to exploit that."
French strikes in 1995 caused Paris to back off of pension reform. Now the French government is trying again, and it is again being met by massive strikes. Delay, however, only makes pension reform more costly.
Christian Science Monitor
October 12, 2010
Cash-strapped and pension-burdened governments around the world — from the United States to Britain — should look at what’s unfolding in France today and take heed:
Massive strikes, supported by students, are halting air and train travel, while closed ports threaten French fuel supplies. It is the fifth round of protests against a proposed rise in the retirement age.You can chalk up part of the popular pushback to being French. As sure as lovers stroll along the banks of the Seine, protesters clog the streets whenever the government tries to pare back the generous benefits of the welfare state. In 1995, for instance, French President Jacques Chirac tried his hand at pension reform. A three-week transport strike forced him to back down.
It’s not the protests themselves, but the passage of time — the difference between Mr. Chirac’s day and this autumn day 15 years later — that holds the lesson for other governments with pensions they can’t afford.
You see, back in 1995, Chirac proposed only modest changes in the French retirement system. His government zeroed in on pensions for certain government workers, such as transit employees who were allowed to retire at age 50 — a decade before most other French workers.
Fifteen years later, French President Nicolas Sarkozy can no longer afford the luxury of nip-and-tuck pension reform. His proposed changes — which are now working their way through Parliament — are far more widespread, and thus more upsetting for the population.
With a few exceptions, he plans to raise the minimum retirement age for all workers from 60 to 62, and the age at which one can get full pension benefits from 65 to 67.
Why the more painful reform? Well, the day of reckoning that got put off in 1995 can no longer be postponed. Unfortunately, delaying the fix has made it more costly, and more urgent.
Unlike in Chirac’s time, pressure from global financial markets is bearing down on European countries that have high deficits and costly pensions. Mr. Sarkozy warns that France’s coveted AAA credit rating is at risk if pensions aren’t fixed. He’s not kidding.
And not just the markets, but other European governments are insisting on national fiscal discipline — this in the wake of the Greek debt debacle that nearly sank the euro currency last spring. Chirac also did not have this pressure to worry about.
Meanwhile, negative demographic trends march on. Developed countries are grappling with the same problem that France has: As birthrates decline, fewer workers support more retirees. France’s pension system is expected to produce a deficit of $39 billion this year. It will rise rapidly unless lawmakers intervene.
Like Chirac, political leaders — from heads of state to state governors — have known for a long time about the pension crisis. This year, the American Social Security system will pay out more benefits than it receives in payroll taxes for the first time since 1983. By 2037, Social Security reserves will be gone and income flowing into the system will only be able to cover about 75 percent of benefits.
America’s state and local public employee pensions are underfunded by as much as $3 trillion. That’s why governors such as California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger have insisted on pension reforms. Wisely, 15 other states have moved to cut pension costs this year.
Will Washington follow suit? Its track record so far is poor. Perhaps it can be nudged by France’s president. Sarkozy can do his own country, and others, a favor by hanging tough in the face of strikes. The longer everyone waits for pension reform, the harder — and more expensive — it gets.
Trains, buses, airports, hospitals, schools, offices closed or in limited service
January 29, 2009
France has come to a near standstill for a one-day general strike. Hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets, protesting that banks, not people, are being bailed out and decrying President Nicolas Sarkozy’s cost-cutting moves as unemployment creeps toward 10 per cent.
“Today is being called Black Thursday here in France, and with good reason,” Common reports. “Here’s just a partial list of the things that are closed or in limited service: the metro, buses, trains, airports, hospitals, schools, government offices, post offices — the list goes on and on...”Thierry Dedieu, a leader of one of country's major labour groups, the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, put the protesters' view this way:
"We want to show that people are dissatisfied at the moment. We don't want to have to pay for a crisis that we're not responsible for."Although general strikes are no novelty in France, this one seems to have unnerved Sarkozy, who has been uncharacteristically quiet.
France's normally irrepressible president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has had little to say about the protest.
That may be partly because the general population, for the first time in a long time, seems to support it, and partly because Sarkozy sees parallels with the May 1968 street protests that helped to push longtime president Charles de Gaulle from office, Common says.
In Paris, commuters braved freezing temperatures and biked, walked and even took boats to work, but a 2007 law ensuring minimal transport service meant that some subways, buses and suburban rail lines were operating, and they were stuffed with passengers, the Associated Press reported.
"I'm not against the fact that people demonstrate to defend their interest and their benefits, as they say, but is this really the best time to do it, considering what is going on right now with the economic crisis?" Pierre Rattier, a commuter, told APTN.VIDEO: Riots in France January 2009
"So I really don't think it's the best time to have done this, but, well, this is typically French."
French Strikes: Violence Erupts as Thousands Gather to Protest on ‘Black Thursday’
December 12, 2008
The unrest that has gripped Greece is spilling over into the rest of Europe, raising concerns the clashes could be a trigger for opponents of globalization, disaffected youth, and others outraged by the continent's economic turmoil and soaring unemployment.
Protesters in Spain, Denmark and Italy smashed shop windows, pelted police with bottles and attacked banks this week, while in France, cars were set ablaze Thursday outside the Greek consulate in Bordeaux, where protesters scrawled graffiti warning about a looming "insurrection."
At least some of the protests were organized over the Internet, showing how quickly the message of discontent can be spread, particularly among tech-savvy youth. One Web site Greek protesters used to update each other on the locations of clashes asserted there have been sympathy protests in nearly 20 countries.
More demonstrations were set for Friday in Italy, France and Germany. Still, the clashes have been isolated so far, and nothing like the scope of the chaos in Greece, which was triggered by the police killing of a teenager on Saturday and has ballooned into nightly scenes of burning street barricades, looted stores and overturned cars. Nevertheless, authorities in Europe worry conditions are ripe for the contagion to spread.
As Europe plunges into recession, unemployment is rising, particularly among the young. Even before the crisis, European youths complained about difficulty finding well-paid jobs — even with a college degree — and many said they felt left out as the continent grew in prosperity.
In Greece, demonstrators handed out fliers Thursday listing their demands, which include the reversal of public spending cuts that have brought more layoffs, and said they were hopeful their movement would spread.
"We're encouraging nonviolent action here and abroad," said Konstantinos Sakkas, a 23-year-old protester at the Athens Polytechnic, where many of the demonstrators are based.
"What these are abroad are spontaneous expressions of solidarity with what's going on here."Across the continent, Internet sites and blogs have popped up to spread the call to protest. Several Greek Web sites offered protesters real-time information on clash sites, where demonstrations were heading and how riot police were deployed around the city. Protest marches were arranged and announced on the sites and via text message on cell phones.
In Spain, an anti-globalization Web site, Nodo50.org, greeted visitors with the headline "State Assassin, Police Executioners" and told them of hastily called rallies Wednesday in Barcelona and Madrid.
"We stand in solidarity" with the Greek protesters, the site said.Elsewhere in Europe, reports about the clashes in Greece were quickly picked up online by citizen journalists, some of whom posted details of confrontations on Twitter. At the Independent Media Center, photos and video of the demonstrations were uploaded and plans were listed for "upcoming solidarity actions" in London, Edinburgh and Berlin.
One writer on the site london.indymedia.org exhorted people to follow the Greek example and "reclaim the streets. Burn the banks that robbed you ... It is a great opportunity to expand the revolution in all Europe."
"What's happening in Greece tends to prove that the extreme left exists, contrary to doubts of some over these past few weeks," French Interior Ministry spokesman Gerard Gachet told The Associated Press. But, he added, the coming days and weeks would determine whether "there's a danger of contagion of the Greek situation into France."In cities across Europe, protests flared in solidarity with the demonstrations in Greece. One rally outside the Greek Embassy in Rome turned violent on Wednesday, damaging police vehicles, overturning a car and setting a trash can on fire. In Denmark, protesters pelted riot police with bottles and paint in downtown Copenhagen; 63 people were detained and later released.
And in Spain, angry youths attacked banks, shops and a police station in Madrid and Barcelona late Wednesday. Some of the protesters chanted "police killers" and other slogans. Eleven people — including a Greek girl — were arrested at the two rallies, which drew a total of about 200 protesters.
Daniel Lostao, president of the state-financed Youth Council, an umbrella organization of Spanish youth groups, said young people in Spain face daunting challenges — soaring unemployment, low salaries and difficulty in leaving the family nest because of expensive housing. Still, he said he doubted the protests in Spain would grow.
"We do not have the feeling that this is going to spread," Lostao said. "Let's hope I am not wrong."In France, protesters set fire to two cars and a garbage can filled with flammable material outside the Greek consulate in Bordeaux Thursday and scrawled graffiti threatening more unrest, Greek Consul Michel Corfias said. Graffiti reading "solidarity with the fires in Greece," was scrawled on the consulate and the word "insurrection" was painted on the doors of neighboring houses.
"The events in Greece are a trigger" for French youth angry by their own lack of economic opportunity, Corfias said.
December 20, 2008
Europe exists, it appears. If Greek students sneeze, or catch a whiff of tear-gas, young people take to the streets in France and now Sweden. Yesterday, masked youths threw two firebombs at the French Institute in Athens. Windows were smashed but the building was not seriously damaged. Then youths spray-painted two slogans on the building. One said, "Spark in Athens. Fire in Paris. Insurrection is coming". The other read, "France, Greece, uprising everywhere".
It was a calculated and violent attempt to link disparate youth protest movements. Links between protests in Greece and France – and, to a lesser degree, unrest in Sweden – may seem tenuous, even non-existent. But social and political ailments and their symptoms transmit as rapidly as influenza in the television, internet and text-message age.
With Europe, and the world, pitching headlong into a deep recession, the "Greek Syndrome", as one French official calls it, was already being monitored with great care across the European Union. The attempt to politicise and link the disputes across EU frontiers may prove to be a random act of self-dramatisation by an isolated group on the Greek far left. But it does draw attention to the similarities – and many differences – between the simultaneous outbreaks of unrest in three EU countries.
Thousands of young Greeks have been rioting on and off for almost two weeks. They are protesting against the chaotic, and often corrupt, social and political system of a country still torn between European "modernity" and a muddled Balkan past. They can be said, in that sense, to be truly revolting.
The riots began with a mostly "anarchist" protest against the killing of a 15-year-old boy by police but spread to other left-wing groups, immigrants and at times, it seemed, almost every urban Greek aged between 18 and 30. The protesters claim that they belong to a sacrificed "€600" generation, doomed to work forever for low monthly salaries. French lycée (sixth-form) students took to the street in their tens of thousands this week and last to protest against modest, proposed changes in the school system and the "natural wastage" of a handful of teaching posts. In other words, they were engaged in a typical French revolution of modern times: a conservative-left-wing revolt, not for change but against it. The lycée students are, broadly, in favour of the status quo in schools, although they admit the cumbersome French education system does not serve them well.
But behind the unrest lie three other factors: a deep disaffection from the French political system; a hostility to capitalism and "globalism" and the ever-simmering unrest in the poor, multiracial suburbs of French cities...
December 16, 2008
Greek protesters pushed their way into television and radio studios Tuesday, forcing broadcasters to put out anti-government messages in a change of tactics after days of violent street protests.
A group of about 10 youths got into the studio of NET state television and turned off a broadcast of a speech by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, station officials said. The protesters forced studio cameras to instead show them holding up banners that read: "Stop watching, get out onto the streets," and "Free everyone who has been arrested." No one was hurt, and no arrests were reported.
NET chairman Christos Panagopoulos said the protesters appeared to know how to operate cameras and studio controls.
"This goes beyond any limit," he said.In the northern city of Thessaloniki, protesters made their way into three local radio stations, agreeing to leave only when a protest message was read out on the air. Violence also broke out again after a two-day lull as masked youths attacked riot police headquarters in Athens and protesters clashed with police in Thessaloniki. Police said 30 youths threw petrol bombs and stones at the riot police building, damaging seven cars and a police bus parked outside.
In Thessaloniki, riot police fired tear gas to disperse 300 youths throwing fruit and stones outside the city's main court complex. The disturbance followed a court decision that found eight police officers guilty of abusing a student following riots two years ago. Overnight, arsonists attacked three Athens banks with petrol bombs, causing extensive damage.
The fatal police shooting of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos on Dec. 6 set off violence that led to more than 300 arrested and left hundreds of stores smashed and looted. Retailers say the damage will cost them euro1.5 billion ($2 billion) in lost income.
Protesters have called for riot officers to be pulled off the streets and for police to be disarmed. But the protests tapped into wider discontent with Karamanlis' conservative government and there have been widespread calls for the government to revise its economic, social and education policies.
Higher education in Greece has come to a standstill. Lessons have stopped at more than 100 secondary schools that are under occupation by students, according to the Education Ministry. Scores of university buildings across Greece are also occupied.
Greece's opposition Socialists, who are calling for early elections, accused Karamanlis of mishandling the crisis which they said had worsened the effects of the international economic downturn.
"Greeks are losing their patience. Their salary is running out before the end of the month as they endure a major economic crisis, and at the same time can see the state collapsing," Socialist spokesman Giorgos Papaconstantinou said. "People want answers to their problems, not speeches."Karamanlis insisted his government has acted "calmly and responsibly" in dealing with riots, avoiding the loss of life. But for the first time since the violence erupted, he acknowledged the public's sense of frustration.
"Of course there are broader issues," he said. "People experience a lack or merit, corruption in their daily lives, and a sense of social injustice."In Athens main Syntagma Square, Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis relaunched holiday celebrations after the city's Christmas tree was torched by rioters last week. A small group of protesters chanted slogans during tree-lighting ceremony, as hundreds of revelers looked on. The protesters, mostly students from various drama schools, handed out fliers that read: "Lavish storefront and Christmas Trees will not hide the reality."
December 14, 2008
Greece has seen a week of major protests sparked by the shooting of a teenage boy. There's widespread discontent in the country blamed on rising poverty, corruption and unemployment. Other problems linked to Greece's membership of the European Union have also played a role.
Seventeen years after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, the red flag is in fashion again on the streets of Europe. This time it's the streets of Athens and Thessalonika that are aflame with the rage of young people.
"It was not only the murder of Alexis that makes us come out on the streets. It's poverty and unemployment," one of the protesters said.These people are called the 700 euro generation because that is all they can hope to earn after finishing university. But membership of the EU and its single currency has led to soaring living costs in Greece, and many in the younger generation fear their future is among the poor.
Celebrated Greek writer Mimis Androvlakis predicts “a conflict between generations” in the future.
“There is a very deep dissatisfaction among young people today against the structure of Europe,” Androvlakis said. In his writings, Androvlakis has explained why the European Union has failed Greece. "We have a common currency, but we don't have common policies and traditions. We can't reduce the price of the euro to give us an advantage in exports," he says.And this may be the heart of the problem. Greeks are different from Western Europeans in every way. Greece is a Balkan nation in Europe wanting to be a European nation in the Balkans. Its spirit and soul is closer to Eastern Europe, so it's not surprising the first cracks in the European Union are appearing here.
Opposition member of the Greek parliament, Gionnis Magriotis, says it’s time Europe learned to accommodate difference.
"The EU must change its social policy and deal not only with countries' economies, but see that each nation has its own tradition and way of living," he said.Member of the European parliament, Margaritis Shinas, points to the problem of globalization.
"We are in a globalised economy. Money moves beyond frontiers, the crisis moves beyond frontiers, but the structures for control, accountability and democratic accountability are still national," she said.Meanwhile, demonstrators are threatening to continue their street protests until officials in Brussels understand that the economy is more than numbers; it's geography, history, tradition and soul.
February 23, 2009
Police are preparing for a “summer of rage” as victims of the economic downturn take to the streets to demonstrate against financial institutions, the Guardian has learned. The warning comes in the wake of often violent protests against the handling of the economy across Europe.
Britain’s most senior police officer with responsibility for public order raised the spectre of a return of the riots of the 1980s, with people who have lost their jobs, homes or savings becoming “footsoldiers” in a wave of potentially violent mass protests. Superintendent David Hartshorn, who heads the Metropolitan police’s public order branch, told the Guardian that middle-class individuals who would never have considered joining demonstrations may now seek to vent their anger through protests this year. He said that banks, particularly those that still pay large bonuses despite receiving billions in taxpayer money, had become “viable targets”. So too had the headquarters of multinational companies and other financial institutions in the City which are being blamed for the financial crisis.
Hartshorn, who receives regular intelligence briefings on potential causes of civil unrest, said the mood at some demonstrations had changed recently, with activists increasingly “intent on coming on to the streets to create public disorder”. The warning comes in the wake of often violent protests against the handling of the economy across Europe. In recent weeks Greek farmers have blocked roads over falling agricultural prices, a million workers in France joined demonstrations to demand greater protection for jobs and wages and Icelandic demonstrators have clashed with police in Reykjavik...
Riots and street battles are set to spread through Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states as inflation, unemployment and racism fuel tension, reports Jason Burke, the Guardian.
January 18, 2009
Eastern Europe is heading for a violent "spring of discontent," according to experts in the region who fear that the global economic downturn is generating a dangerous popular backlash on the streets. Hit increasingly hard by the financial crisis, countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and the Baltic states face deep political destabilisation and social strife, as well as an increase in racial tension.
Last week protesters were tear-gassed as they threw rocks at police outside parliament in Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, in a protest against an austerity package including tax rises and benefit cuts.
In Sofia, Bulgaria, 150 people were arrested and at least 30 injured in widespread violence. More than 100 were detained after street battles between security forces and demonstrators in the Latvian capital, Riga.
According to the most recent estimates, the economies of some eastern European countries, after posting double-digit growth for nearly a decade, will contract by up to 5% this year, with inflation peaking at more than 13%. Many fear Romania, which joined the European Union with Bulgaria in 2007, may be the next to suffer major breakdowns in public order.
"In a few months there will be people in the streets, that much is certain," said Luca Niculescu, a media executive in Bucharest. "Every day we hear about another factory shutting or moving overseas. There is a new government that has not shown itself too effective. We have got used to very high growth rates. It's an explosive cocktail."Major Romanian companies threatening massive job cuts include low-cost car-maker Dacia, where up to 4,000 posts could go if sales do not recover. A spokeswoman for Renault, which owns Dacia, said such deep cuts would only be considered in a "catastrophic scenario," but production in Romania has already been halted for two months after local demand plunged by more than half. Other major companies have already announced plans to relocate, with one Japanese wire factory heading for Morocco.
Marius Oprea, security adviser to the last Romanian government, said the economic crisis would mean "serious problems for the middle class." He added: "There will be a fall in tax revenue which will lead to major problems for state budgets. The numbers of state employees will also be cut right back and their salaries will be worth less and less."
Another problem in Romania, as elsewhere in the region, is that many new middle-class house owners have taken out mortgages in euros. With local currencies collapsing, repayment is becoming harder. "We will try dialogue but if that does not work we will defend our members' interest however we can," said one Romanian trade unionist last week. "We want to be part of the solution, not the problem, but the situation is very serious."
Dr Jonathan Eyal, a regional specialist at the Royal United Services Institute thinktank in London, said eastern European countries were ill-equipped to deal with the impact of the global downturn and risked "social meltdown... These are often fragile economies ... with brittle political structures, political parties that are not very well formed and weak institutions. They are ill-prepared for what has hit them," Eyal said.
"Last year it was the core western European countries which were shaky; now it is the weaker periphery that are getting the full blast of the crisis."The reasons for last week's unrest are varied. Bulgarian students were protesting over the death of one of their number in an apparently random criminal attack, blaming the Socialist-led government for failing to ensure security. They were joined by farmers angry at low prices for their produce and problems with EU subsidies often diverted by corrupt administrators.
Tensions have been exacerbated by the gas crisis, in which Bulgaria has suffered severe heating and power shortages since Moscow turned off the taps following a dispute with Ukraine.
"We are fed up with living in the poorest and most corrupt country," the Sofia protest organisers said in a statement. "This unique protest unites the people in their wish for change and their wish to live in a normal European country."In Latvia, years of strong economic growth have given way to recession, soaring inflation and rising unemployment. Trust in the state's authority and officials has fallen catastrophically, said President Valdis Zatlers last week, threatening to call snap elections.
Most of those arrested in last week's disturbances in Riga have now been released. According to security police chief Janis Reiniks, the detained were "jobless, workers, students and school children" and included "one [person] connected to the Latvian Democratic Party and one skinhead." Last year Latvia was forced to ask the International Monetary Fund for a £6.25bn bail-out package, fuelling a jingoistic backlash against a perceived "national humiliation."
Some eastern European states appear to be resisting better, however. The Estonian government built up substantial currency reserves during years of rapid growth.
"Everyone knows this year is going to be very tough. But in Riga and Vilnius they are exhausted and angry and have lost faith in their leaders; that is not the case here," said Raimo Poom, political editor of Tallinn-based newspaper Esti Paevaleht.One fear is a rise in attacks on ethnic minorities. The Czech Republic, also hit badly by the crisis, saw its worst street violence for years recently when 700 members of the far-right Workers' Party clashed with 1,000 riot police in the town of Litvinov when they were prevented from marching into a mostly Roma area.
"The populist, nationalist political climate [in eastern Europe] is very conducive to anti-minority sentiment," said Larry Olomoofe of the European Roma Rights Centre in Budapest.The recent history of the region aggravates the crisis, say experts.
"You have people who were buoyed up through a very bad period after the collapse of the USSR, when their economies contracted by up to a third by a belief that joining the EU would bring them prosperity and stability," Eyal said. "It is that aspiration that has been disappointed and that is very destabilising."Could Greece's Riots Spread to France?
Inside Account of Activism in Greece
Protesters Riot Again in Athens
Violent Protests Resume in Greece’s Athens
Crisis Heightens Danger of Global Social Unrest
Governments Growing Nervous at Increased Social Tensions
Unrest Rocks the Streets of China, France, Russia, Mexico, and Elsewhere
Huge Protest Over Irish Economy
Anger Rises in Germany As the Economy Falls
Hungary on Edge of Bankruptcy
Ukrainians Protest Against the Economic and Political Crisis
Royal Bank of Scotland Increases Security for Execs
40,000 Demonstrate Against Turkish Government as Economic Crisis Deepens
Ireland: Trade Unions Call Off March 30 National Strike
France: Millions Strike and March Against Austerity
Reports on the March 19 Demonstrations in France
EU Leaders Cancel 'Jobs Summit' to Avoid Protests
Britain: Senior Police Officer Warns of 'Summer of Rage'
Greek Group That Targeted Citigroup Warns of Plan for Revolt
Northern Ireland Riots After Police Arrest 3 Over Killings
3 Million Take to Streets in France Opposing Economic Policies
Ireland: Over 100,000 March Against Government in Dublin
London in Lock-down for G20
London: 35,000 March in “Put People First” Protest
Germany: Thousands Demonstrate on Eve of G-20 Summit
French Workers Hold Bosses at Caterpillar Plant
G-20 Protesters Break into Royal Bank of Scotland
Agent Provocateur Riots Commence in London at G20
G20 Protesters Smash Windows, Clash with Police
Police Teargas Hundreds of NATO Protesters in France
Anti-war and Anti-capitalist Protesters Tangle Streets of France
Updated 4/4/09 (Newest Additions at End of List)