Athens: Protesters blocked Greek ministries and state workers went on strike on Tuesday while EU and IMF inspectors were wrapping up a visit that will decide whether to release a tranche of aid Greece needs to stave off imminent bankruptcy.
With European Union leaders racing to put a comprehensive bailout deal together to try to prevent the Greek crisis from spreading out of control, Athens is expected to receive the €8 billion ($11 billion) loan tranche.
A statement by the “troika” officials on their inspection review is expected later on Tuesday but final approval on the loan, which Greece needs to keep paying its bills past mid-November, will not come before the inspectors present a full report to euro zone finance ministers and the IMF board.
New strikes hit Greece on 11 Oct 11 as the govt finalized talks with its EU-IMF creditors on additional spending cuts to secure payment of a bankruptcy-saving loan. Civil servants blocked the entrance to several ministries ( AFP)
On Tuesday, civil servants protesting against austerity blocked the general accounting office and the Interior Ministry, carrying banners reading “Broke and Fired” and “No to Layoffs, No to cutting wages”.
Even if the latest aid tranche is agreed, it would only provide temporary relief. As the crisis worsens, the focus has shifted to a review of a second bailout plan agreed in July, with the debt-choked country is expected to need even more support as its economy keeps shrinking more than expected.
Greece, in deep recession and struggling to contain a public debt expected to hit 162% of gross domestic product this year, has promised sweeping austerity measures, including severe wage cuts for many public sector workers, mass layoffs and tax hikes that will hit middle class Greeks hard.
However European Union and International Monetary Fund officials have repeatedly criticized Athens for delays in implementing the reforms and euro zone ministers have postponed any release of the aid by a month to November to keep up pressure on the government.
Finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, who has been meeting the inspectors in recent days, tried to strike a reassuring note on Tuesday, ruling out any suggestion that Greece could be forced out of the shared currency.
“Greece is and will always be a member of the euro zone, a member of the euro,” he told a conference in Athens.
In a television interview late on Monday, he said he expected the loan tranche to be approved but warned that Greece would have to be prepared to accept more belt-tightening.
“The troika is looking at everything. The questions it asks should have been our own questions a long time ago,” he told Mega TV, adding that unpopular austerity measures were necessary to ensure that Greece does not “experience a catastrophe.”
An uncontrolled Greek default on its debt would have unpredictable consequences, potentially unleashing a crisis which could destabilize the whole euro zone.
But the severe cuts demanded by international lenders have caused deep resentment among ordinary Greeks.
In some areas of Athens, garbage was piled high on the streets as waste collection workers went on strike, while at Greece’s biggest refiner Hellenic Petroleum, workers protesting at planned wage cuts also walked off the job.
Underlining the pressure on wage earners facing big cuts to their pay packets, monthly inflation data on Tuesday showed a 3.1% jump in consumer prices in September.
The European Union postponed a summit by a week on Monday to allow time for a broader solution to Greece’s debt crisis. The leaders of Germany and France gave investors some hope on Sunday night by promising a plan soon to recapitalize Europe’s banks but gave no details on what would be done.
The troika inspectors resumed their review of Greece’s finances and reforms at the end of September, nearly four weeks after suspending talks over disagreements on the steps required to put the country’s finances back on track.
Senior officials from the troika said last week they wanted more details on the impact of plans to slash the public sector workforce and increase taxes before concluding their review.
Venizelos is expected to brief ruling party PASOK lawmakers on pension cuts and a controversial plan to put tens of thousands of state workers on the road to redundancy.