Thousands take to streets in Greece ahead of reform vote

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Athens Sunday as Greece's parliament prepared to vote on a controversial tax and pensions overhaul which has sparked mass opposition.

AFP| Updated: May 08, 2016, 21:00 PM IST
Thousands take to streets in Greece ahead of reform vote

Athens: Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Athens Sunday as Greece's parliament prepared to vote on a controversial tax and pensions overhaul which has sparked mass opposition.

Police said almost 15,000 people turned out to march in Athens and the second city of Thessaloniki against the measures demanded by the EU and IMF that the government is seeking to adopt ahead of a crunch meeting of eurozone creditors in Brussels on Monday.

The reforms to be voted on later Sunday would reduce Greece's highest pension payouts, merge several pension funds, increase contributions and raise taxes for those on medium and high incomes.

The austerity measures are part of a package demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in exchange for a 86 billion euro (USD 95 billion) bailout agreed in July, the third for the debt-laden country since 2010.

Central Athens was largely closed to traffic with a significant police presence in the city although numbers were significantly down on February protests when 40,000 people marched in Athens alone.

"People are tired and disappointed by the leftist government in power... The rallies have not had the scale we had expected," said Maria K, a private sector employee in her fifties who claims to be owed 30,000 euros (USD 34,000) in back pay from her employer.

She also blamed the Orthodox Easter holidays for reducing the numbers at the protests.

The communist-leaning PAME trade union was the best represented group with as many as 7,000 supporters in Athens and 6,000 in Thessaloniki, according to police.

"Social security, public and compulsory for all. The plutocracy must pay," said the union's banners.

A concert protesting the reforms is planned for Sunday evening on Syntagma Square close to the Greek parliament.

Protesters aligned with the GSEE private workers' union chanted: "No to the dissolution of the social security system."

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras defended the reforms on Friday, telling lawmakers from his left-wing Syriza party -- which holds a slim majority with 153 seats in the 300-seat parliament - that they would spare the poorest.

Reforming Greece's bloated pension system is crucial to prevent "the system collapsing in a few years", Tsipras added.