Greek PM Offers To Quit As Protests Swell

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Wednesday’s mass protest was the last straw for Greek PM George Papandreou, who has pledged to reshuffle his divided cabinet and face a no-confidence motion. In a public appearance he said he would tear apart the current Government, which is led by the Socialist Party (Pasok), and create a new, unity government in coalition with the centre-right opposition.

"Tomorrow I will form a new government and then I will ask for a vote of confidence," Papandreou said on national television. But despite widespread opposition, the PM has pledged to push ahead with a new round of austerity measures aimed at getting the Greek economy back in the black. "I will continue on the same course. This is the road of duty, together with Pasok’s parliamentary group, its members and the Greek people," he said.

Protesters in Thessaloniki, 15/06/2011. All photos by Bella Papadopoulou-Dobrowolska

Crowds of thousands of people gathered in front of the Parliament in Athens, creating a tense atmosphere as violent opposition led to arrests and teargas from the assembled riot police.

Julie Eskesen, a Danish exchange student, was caught up in the riots in the centre of Athens. "Being in the middle of the riots I really felt their frustration," she told New Matilda. "When I was standing there watching the protests, an older lady came up to me and as she saw I was not Greek she told me ‘we don’t want to hurt anyone, we only want to be a part of the democratic process because we feel that we are not.’"

The mass protests were in response to the Government’s mid-term fiscal plan, which will introduce a new round of cutbacks and tax increases. Wednesday was the day that Government MPs were due to start reviewing the plan before the final vote which will take place towards the end of the month.

Greece needs to pass the latest measures in order to qualify for continuing EU-IMF bailout aid.

PM George Papandreou on the cover of the newspaper. The headline reads: "Is he listening?"

In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, protesters are still sleeping in the streets, in tents and under trees. "You have taken away our jobs, our money, our education, our healthcare so now we are forced to sleep out on the streets," is their message.

The protests have lasted for three weeks and although the attention by the media has reduced, the number of participants is increasing daily.

One protester, Stathis, told New Matilda he has been coming to the daily gatherings every evening to listen to what people are saying and is ready to protest until the Government finally responds to the needs of the citizens, even if that means that he will have to protest for years.

"This movement is great! Finally we have become a united ‘we’," he said. "Even though the odds are against us, we need to believe that our action can make a difference in the end, it is crucial."

Protesters inspired by Spain’s ‘Los Indignaos’ movement stay camped out under Thessaloniki’s White Tower.

The movement has found a way to unite the nation: every evening at 8pm at public squares across the country there are open foruums where anyone can express their opinion. Each Sunday protesters gather in the main cities and walk together in a mass march.

"Every Sunday more and more people come and join us in this march. Last week there were over 10,000 people in Athens and 3,000 people in Thessaloniki" said another protester, Dimitra, who has been joining the march every Sunday.

In front of the White Tower — the symbol of Thessaloniki — the organisation that supports disabled people, AMEA, have joined the protesters. They have created a special line so that people in wheelchairs can have easier access to the daily public speeches.

The daily open democracy gathering in Thessaloniki

According to Dmitra, disabled Greek citizens are the ones who have been hit the hardest by government cuts.

"Unfortunately the Government is making life even harder as it already is for the people with disabilities. They have cut all the benefits and payments as well as funding for the organisations and educational institutions that work with disabled persons. They have now also decided to close down the one and only school in the whole country for blind people," she told New Matilda.

This weekend Opposition leader Antonis Samaras and Prime Minister Papandreou will meet the protesters in front of the White Tower, where it will become clear whether this latest government reshuffle is enough to appease tens of thousands of angry Greek citizens.

 

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