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Greece braced for mass protests as austerity cuts bite

Thousands of police have been mobilised amid fears of unrest over mass public sector job cuts and other measures

More than 5,000 police have been mobilised in Athens amid government fears of a repetition of last June’s violent riots in the capital.

Another 5,000 are being deployed in Thessaloniki where the Green prime minister George Papandreou is due to give a speech defending the harsh fiscal cuts pledged by his government.

He is expected to face mass protests after he announced 10,000 immediate public sector job cuts as he comes under mounting pressure to save Greece’s position in the eurozone.

Thessaloniki is preparing for huge unrest – police have erected metal barricades to prevent protesters from storming the grounds of the International Trade Fair, where Papandreou will deliver his speech.

“The protests this year seem likely to be much bigger than in any past year,” said one police official in the city. “But the situation in Greece is very difficult, so there are more things to protest about.”

Authorities from the IMF and the EU are demanding that Greece pushes ahead with its austerity cuts to secure its bailout money.

Papandreou has responded by saying the 10,000 jobs that are going immediately will be followed by another 10,000 within weeks – the first ever mass dismissals of public sector workers.

The giant public-sector shrinkage – as many as 120,000 public workers could lose their jobs – threatens to upend decades of cosy ties between the ruling Socialist party and those workers, who have long formed a key constituency.

Taxi drivers, doctors and rubbish collectors have announced strike plans, signalling a new round of anti-austerity protests by unions and professional groups in the crisis-hit country.

Taxi drivers have called a 24-hour strike for Thursday, after the government refused to amend plans to open up their profession to more competition. The vehicles were on strike for nearly three weeks this summer, causing havoc to parts of the key tourism industry. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds