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Greek Party Syriza Is Supporting Mass Protests Against Its Own Government

Major Greek unions have called a 24-hour strike and demonstrations in protest at austerity measures agreed by Syriza in exchange for fresh bailout funds. And the Syriza government is right behind them.

by Reuters and VICE News
Nov 12 2015, 1:35pm

Photo par Yannis Kolesidis/EPA

It's deja vu for many as thousands of Greek residents are once again lining Syntagma Square, outside the Greece's parliament in Athens, to protest against austerity measures.

But this time it's all a bit more confusing, now that the far-left Syriza party is in charge. In a bizarre twist, the party is actually encouraging the protests against its own government, alongside a nationwide 24-hour general strike organized by the country's main public and private sector unions.

Mass action needed to be taken "against the neoliberal policies and the blackmail from financial and political centers within and outside Greece," its labor policy division said

Nearly 25,000 people have taken part in three separate protests across the capital while hundreds of thousands have gone on strike. Some clashes broke out between demonstrators and police, after youths throwing Molotov cocktails were met with tear gas and stun grenades, according to an Associated Press report.

Domestic flights will be grounded, ships will remain docked at ports and public offices are shut in the first nationwide walkout called by the unions in a year.

Hospitals will run on emergency staff and some state schools will close as teachers and students, doctors, journalists and transport workers join the strike to protest the austerity measures demanded by international lenders in exchange for fresh bailout funds.

It will be a first test for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who came to power promising to end austerity in January, then accepted the unpopular terms of a third bailout, agreeing to cuts in order to unlock a three-year, 86 billion euros ($92 billion) bailout from Europe — under the threat of a euro zone exit.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his party were reelected in September after snap elections followed a July referendum and a lot of protests and posturing. He campaigned on a mandate to implement the bailout agreement, vowing to work hard to mitigate the impact of the deal.

Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili denied suggestions that the leftist party, which fought against austerity when it was in opposition, was trying to play both sides in supporting the anti-austerity strike.

Greece's Syriza government has said it will implement its side of the bargain with lenders, but has long maintained that the bailout terms are excessively harsh.

"We are implementing an agreement which includes (bailout) measures which are unfair," Gerovasili said.

Condemned by many citizens and politicians as having sacrificed the anti-austerity platform they campaigned on before gaining power last January, Syriza continues to repeatedly affirm that it is staying true to its original aims. MP Christos Simorelis explained the disparity to local TV: "We agreed to take these measures under pressure," he said. "In Syriza we continue to see the party as one thing, the government another."

Related: Several Infants Among 11 Killed as Migrant Boat Sinks Off Greek Coast

However, the ongoing divisions in the party have led others to quit. 

"The winter is going to be explosive and this will mark the beginning," Grigoris Kalomoiris, a member of the civil servants' union Adedy and former Syriza member, told the Guardian.

"Syriza may now be trying to save its soul but it has gone back on all its promises," he continued.

"In this country a graduate starts off in the public sector with a salary of 775 euros ($831) a month, or 9,300 euros ($9,974) a year, and we are being told that wages will be frozen for the next decade and that every tax imaginable will be increased. How will people make ends meet? It has got to the point where a social explosion is inevitable and it will come sooner rather than later."

Greece and its international lenders have locked horns over home foreclosures and non-performing loans and hope for a deal before this coming Monday. Athens insists that resolving the issue should not result in thousands of Greeks at risk of losing their homes.

At stake is the release of a two billion-euro tranche it needs to pay off state arrears and another 10 billion for the country's four big banks. 

Related: A German Company Will Control 14 Greek Airports as Bailout Conditions Force Privatization

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