Firebombs in Athens as Greeks protest EU-imposed pension reforms (VIDEO)

Greek riot police stand by fires caused by petrol bombs thrown by youths following brief clashes between police and protesters during a protest marking a 24-hour strike in Athens, Greece, December 3, 2015. © Alkis Konstantinidis
More than 15,000 people took to the streets of Athens as unions called a general strike to protest pension cuts agreed to as part of an €86-billion bailout deal accepted by the country’s left-wing government this summer.

Most demonstrations around the country have reportedly passed peacefully. In the capital, however, as columns of union members converged at the central square in front of the parliament building, several dozen protesters split off and began throwing Molotov cocktails at the riot police. Authorities said they managed to isolate the instigators within minutes, and there was no escalation in the violence.

Protesters from the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME shout slogans as they march past the Bank of Greece headquarters, during an anti-austerity demonstration marking a 24-hour strike in Athens, Greece, December 3, 2015. © Alkis Konstantinidis

Thursday’s 24-hour general strike, the second in three weeks, resulted in the disruption of train, ferry, and bus services, and also cancelled flights at Athens’ airport and involved walkouts by school teachers and non-essential medical personnel.

The coalition led by Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras, which owns a slender majority in parliament, has already imposed higher taxes and slashed pensions. In the next round of changes, which are yet to be voted on, the government plans to expedite bankruptcies for financial institutions, set up bank privatization and – most controversially – streamline and trim the complex pension schemes that many Greeks have become reliant on since the economy collapsed.

Demonstrators in Athens held up banners proclaiming “No more!” and “It won’t pass!”

“To all of those insisting on putting the weight of the crisis and the bailout agreement on the shoulders of the weak, the answer is the same: A battle until we win back what we have lost and reverse the new catastrophic plans for society and the economy,” said a statement from GSEE, one of the unions behind the strike.

However, despite the 2.5 million members the organizers managed to muster, the turnout was a far cry from those for the most heated protests that have shaken the Greek capital since 2008. Moreover, most in the crowd appeared more resigned than optimistic about changing the minds of their country’s leaders.

“I cannot accept this, but there’s nothing to be done. Everything has been decided ... Even if we go out in the streets, if we resist, nothing will change,” one of the pensioners at the rally told Deutsche Welle.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras © Michalis Karagiannis

First elected in January on a platform of anti-austerity and change, Tsipras himself has painted the reforms as an inevitable condition of receiving EU funds. In a meeting earlier this week, he tried to persuade other party leaders to avoid turning the adoption of the EU mandated reforms into a political battle.
 
“At this crucial turning point, the country needs more than ever national unity, popular unity and political stability,” declared Tsipras in a publicly-broadcast address following the meeting. “Dogs howl but the caravan goes on. We will endure and achieve our targets. The people will judge us at the end of our term – in the autumn of 2019.”
 
With the country expected to slide into recession next year, Greece’s overall debt is expected to stand at almost $350 billion, according to the government’s own 2016 budget.