Daily life in Athens has effectively been shut down today, as tens of thousands of Greeks rallied in the capital and throughout the country to protest the increasing austerity measures imposed on Greece by its international lenders. The protests accompany a nationwide 24-hour general strike that has successfully disrupted schools, transportation, and hospitals.
These protests are also aimed at Germany’s leader, Angela Merkel, who is scheduled to visit Greece later this week. Germany is one of Greece’s biggest lenders and the force behind much of the austerity measures that have imposed painful tax hikes, spending cuts, and job cuts throughout the country.
Crowds also gathered in the city of Patras, as demonstrators marched in the day of protests and general strikes.
More than 20,000 people participated in the largely peaceful protests that consisted of union members, pensioners, students, and the unemployed. The strike was coordinated by both public- and private-sector trade unions.
Greece’s first bailout took place in 2010, with the International Monetary Fund, European Commission, and European Central Bank stepping in to take control after Greece’s economy collapsed. In exchange for the massive international bailout, Greece was forced to impose severe austerity measures on its citizens, which primarily targeted the most vulnerable portion of its population — its retirees, students, welfare recipients, and government workers. These measures are scheduled to continue, with more job and spending cuts planned for the near future.
The impact of Greece’s recession, which eviscerated 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and nearly brought the euro to its knees, has affected nearly every single of its citizens. The overall unemployment rate in Greece is more than 27 percent, and the rate for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 is a whopping 57 percent.
The vast majority of cuts have been in the public sector, with the government promising to slash an additional 15,000 jobs by the end of this year.
These protests have been common in Greece since the economic crisis began six years ago with similar nation-wide strikes taking place last November.
The austerity measures have also given rise to the presence of far-right parties in Greece, most notably the nationalist Golden Dawn party. Support for Greece's current leader, Antonin Samaras, and his party New Democracy has consequently eroded in recent years.
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