Update 6:17 a.m. EST -- Greek police fired tear gas at anti-austerity protesters throwing petrol bombs in Athens Thursday as workers took to the streets amid a nationwide strike. Offices in the country were shuttered, flights were grounded, ships docked and hospitals saw scant staff, according to Reuters.
Greece is set to come to a standstill Thursday, as workers across the debt-ridden country strike to protest the harsh terms set by international lenders in exchange for fresh bailout funds, according to reports.
The 24-hour general strike was called by Greece’s two biggest unions, ADEDY and GSEE, after the ruling Syriza party -- which came to power in January promising to end the austerity measures -- accepted the terms of the third bailout, which called for further spending cuts and tax hikes. In September, PM Alexis Tsipras and his party survived a snap election triggered by a referendum against the austerity measures and Tsipras' perceived betrayal of his party and its supporters.
Domestic flights stand cancelled, ships are docked, and hospitals will run on emergency staff as teachers and journalists join port workers, civil servants and Athens metro staff in the strike -- the first nationwide strike under the rule of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Meanwhile, Tsipras’ Syriza party issued its support to the protest and urged mass participation from Greek citizens “against the neoliberal policies and the blackmail from financial and political centers within and outside Greece.”
However, the Greek government has little choice but to implement the belt-tightening measures that it has publicly denounced as the country resumed talks with European Union and International Monetary Fund inspectors on Wednesday, as part its bailout review.
Lenders are anxious to see that the country -- now on its third bailout package, worth about $95 billion -- does not back out on austerity reforms under the Memorandum of Understanding, the official name for the bailout.
Greece’s government has said it will uphold its side of the bargain but has long maintained that the bailout terms were unfair. The country, which is currently at loggerheads with lenders over home foreclosures and nonperforming loans, insists that the issue should not result in thousands of Greeks losing their homes.
Greece’s economic issues have only gotten more complex over the last month as three European regulatory agencies indicated that the country’s economy may be heading into recession again this year and the next, according to Reuters.
The European Commission and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development see a 1.4 percent contraction in the Greek economy this year, while the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development pegged it higher, at 1.5 percent. This was a sharp drop given that the first half of the year saw growth of 1 percent, the Reuters report said.
Some allege that the government's mishandling of the situation and bowing to lender demands has crushed the life out of the economy.
"The economic policies Tsipras has to implement are definitely harsher than warranted, and also harsher than they would be if it wasn't for these seven months of brinkmanship and extreme political uncertainty," Prof Manolis Galenianos, a professor of economics at the Royal Holloway, University of London, told Singapore's Straits Times. "This wasn't necessary, it could have been avoided,” he added.