Greek Protesters Rally Against Drastic Cuts
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Even as Greek lawmakers approved another round of austerity, Greek protesters registered their dissent over the weekend. The bailout package is part of an effort by creditors to save Greece from default and a possible exit from the euro. European leaders now need to sign off on the deal, but many people are beginning to wonder if saving Greece is possible. Greeks themselves say austerity is killing them. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.
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JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: What started out as a peaceful protest in front of parliament quickly turned ugly. Gangs of young men in hoods and masks broke away from the massive crowd that filled central Athens. They threw Molotov cocktails at riot police who responded by sending rounds of tear gas into the crowd. A small woman draped in a Greek flag sprayed people with liquid Maalox, the stomach antacid, to counteract the effects of the gas.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)
KAKISSIS: Just know that it doesn't matter how many chemicals you throw at us, she yelled through a megaphone. We're not going anywhere. Rizza Casino(ph) said she was going to stay until lawmakers voted on the austerity measures, which come with $172 billion in bailout loans. She punched her fist in the air as speakers blasted protest songs from the 1970s.
RIZZA CASINO: (Through translator) I've been unemployed for four years. We're can we find work? Look around. There's hunger, hunger, hunger. Our rents are going up, along with everything else. I mean, where is this all going to lead?
KAKISSIS: For months, Greek leaders delayed the inevitable, approving the bailout deal because they wanted to avoid angry voters like the tens of thousands who protested yesterday across the country. Rizza Casino and others are jaded by what they see as the failure of the previous bailout in 2010. It had also come with sacrifices. People's salaries and pensions were cut, their tax bills increased, and the recession deepened. Now, more than 20 percent of Greeks are out of work and half say they can't pay their mortgages.
Haran Nikka(ph) says austerity feels like a death march to keep the euro.
Nikka is a high school literature teacher. She and a crowd of other protesters rushed into the Amalia Hotel near parliament after the crowds of tear gas overwhelmed them. They huddled in the lobby. Their faces chalky white from the Maalox, their eyes red and watery. The last austerity measures cut Nikka's salary by 30 percent. She is worried that new cuts of the minimum wage will mean her teenage daughter will work for practically nothing. She says she's furious that some Europeans called Greeks lazy for wanting to have a decent life.
HARAN NIKKA: (Through translator) No. We don't all share responsibility for this mess. I mean, why should I feel bad for just wanting to live with dignit,y with a job that pays enough so I can go on a summer trip for five days? At this rate, we'll actually be saying, thank God, I have something to eat today.
KAKISSIS: Another protester, Joanna Sambelo(ph) says she's stunned by how quickly living standards have dropped in Greece. She works as a food researcher in the Netherlands and says she's happy that Greece is part of the eurozone, but she worries austerity is pricing her family out of basic services.
JOAN SAMBELO: Well, I don't know how it will be. The most important is that everybody can be living comfortable and having - I don't know - a hospital, a school, everything that - I don't know - every member of the European community can be having.
KAKISSIS: Prime Minister Lucas Papademos says Greece is suffering because it lived beyond its means. He told parliament that the new bailout, as well as a separate bond swap to cut Greek debt by at least 50 percent, will help the country regain its footing.
PRIME MINISTER (LUCAS PAPADEMOS: (Foreign language spoken)
KAKISSIS: Implementing this new program, he said, along with the loan support and the restructuring of our debt will reduce uncertainty and increase faith in the Greek economy. That faith in Greece is shaky these days, especially after yesterday's violence. Rioters looted scores of shops and burned dozens of buildings, including a beloved neoclassical cinema house.
European Union leaders are expected to finalize the bailout deal in Brussels on Wednesday, but many are worried that it may not rescue Greece from its problems. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.