Athens: Thousands of police marched through Athens on Thursday, chanting "thieves, thieves" and carrying black flags, to oppose planned pay cuts under a huge new austerity package meant to save Greece from defaulting on its mountain of debt.
The 4,000 protesters, who also included firefighters and coast guard officers, lit flares, blared spray-can horns, and set up mock gallows outside Parliament.
The peaceful anti-government demonstration came amid deepening social gloom as official figures showed Greece`s unemployment rate surged to 24.4 percent in June, including more than 1.2 million people out of work, many of them youths.
It was the latest in a string of protests against the new USD 14.4 billion austerity package for 2013-14, demanded by rescue creditors from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund.
A top labor leader warned yesterday that the spending cuts would unleash unprecedented social unrest without helping the recession-shackled economy.
"To insist on the (current) austerity program and adopt new measures against the less well-off will provoke a social explosion that is violent and of an intensity never seen before by Greek society," said Yiannis Panagopoulos, the head of the country`s main GSEE union.
Without the measures, Greece will lose access to the vital bailout loans that are shielding it from bankruptcy. But after 2 1/2 years of punishing austerity, the new cutbacks planned by Greece`s conservative-led governing coalition have sparked deep anger, spawning unusual protests by workers such as judges and police.
Thursday`s protesters shouted slogans such as "Thieves, thieves”, ``Shame, you`re delivering the final blow to the security forces”, and "Come out and see how low you have brought us”, as they marched to the Finance Ministry in central Athens.
They set up mock triple gallows on an open-top van, with a sign reading "Troika" in reference to the austerity inspectors from the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank. An officer from each of the services police, coast guard, and firefighters stood with his head in a noose.
The new austerity program, though not yet finalised, is expected to see further cuts to benefits and pensions for several groups of employees on the state payroll, including the workers marching, judges and university professors.
Earlier on Thursday, protesting police officers defied colleagues in the riot police and blocked the entrance of one of their own Athens facilities for about four hours.