Thousands in Greece austerity protest

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Thousands of protesters gathered in Athens and other major Greek cities Wednesday to condemn the government's austerity policies after an online campaign inspired by recent turnouts in Spain.

More than 10,000 people, according to media estimates, assembled in the capital's central Syntagma Square, shouting and shaking their fists at the lawmakers inside the nearby parliament building.

Another 5,000 gathered in the northern city of Thessaloniki and similar protests were planned in the cities of Patras, Ioannina, Iraklio and others.

"Thieves, thieves," the crowd chanted in Athens as a small police force looked on, with reinforcements in reserve.

"What time is it? Time for them to go," read a banner.

Greeks are indignant at a fresh wave of austerity cuts announced this week after painful sacrifices to address a debt crisis last year were partly neutralised by a deep recession that has cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

"We are doing this to show our presence," 33-year-old Thaleia, who is self-employed, told AFP.

"Something has to be done. We need to show our numbers, and someone needs to cover this, to show that there's a lot of people out there protesting, who will not take this lying down."

Dora, a former employee at an advertising firm, said she had not had a secure job for around three and a half years.

"This cannot go on. People must react. Not violently, but with peaceful protests. They should come and stay here," she said.

A last-ditch effort by the Socialist government of George Papandreou to gain further assistance from Greece's EU peers, after a huge loan last year, by selling off a host of lucrative state properties has been particularly hard to swallow for many Greeks.

"It was about time for a protest like this. They're selling out the country," fumed one woman in her fifties.

Plans for the protest quickly spread by word of mouth after a Facebook posting on Tuesday that rapidly drew several thousand adherents.

"We wish to gather peacefully and spontaneously," the event managers said in the posting.

"We state our indignation against the crisis, against those who led us to this point. No parties, teams or ideologies," they said.

The protests were modelled on a similar mobilisation in Spain this week, although the Greek version showed no particular preparation for a sit-in.

Most of the protesters brought along friends and chatted with their backs to parliament, cradling coffee or sipping beer.

The large turnout was nonetheless rare in a country with few citizen initiatives, where most protests are organised and tightly controlled by unions and parties.

To some, that was the whole point of showing up.

"We heard there was an indignation rally so we decided to come," said George, a 44-year-old goldsmith.

"I never come to party or union protests. If I see someone try to hijack this protest, I will leave," he said.

In Spain, thousands gathered in Madrid in a protest timed to coincide with Sunday's regional and local elections, which delivered a heavy blow to Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's ruling Socialist Party.

The spontaneous popular protests, slickly organised via Twitter and Facebook, were the largest since Spain's property bubble collapsed in 2008 and destroyed millions of jobs.

© 2011 AFP

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