Thousands protest in Greece against pension overhaul

Members of the communist-backed labor union PAME shout slogans during a rally in Athens, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (AP)
Updated 18 February 2020

Thousands protest in Greece against pension overhaul

  • Some 10,000 people demonstrated in the capital against the reform, which encourages a longer stay in the workforce
  • Unions are also holding protests in Thessaloniki and other major cities

ATHENS: Thousands protested in Greece on Tuesday against a new pension reform as a 24-hour strike paralyzed transport and services.

Some 10,000 people demonstrated in the capital against the reform, which encourages a longer stay in the workforce, police said.

The labor action brought public transport in Athens, intercity trains and ferry ship services to a standstill.

Civil servants also walked off the job and journalists will stage a three-hour work stoppage against the pension reform.

“This bill is practically the continuation of (austerity) laws introduced in 2010-2019,” civil servants’ union ADEDY said.

Unions are also holding protests in Thessaloniki and other major cities.

The new conservative government says the reform, to be voted by Friday, will make the troubled Greek pension system viable to 2070.

The labor ministry says the overhaul — the third major revamp in a decade — will contain pension increases and reduce penalties for pensioners still working.

Successive governments have attempted to reform the pension system, whose previously generous handouts are seen as one of the causes of the decade-long Greek debt crisis.

“The government will pay dearly for the further dismantling of social insurance, as (its predecessors) did. The Greek people do not forget,” said Communist party general secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas.

A separate government bill to stiffen regulations on street protests is also causing anger among unions.

Chronic overspending and the inaccurate reporting of the budget deficit spooked creditors in 2010, and required three successive bailouts by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to avert a Greek bankruptcy.

In return for billions of euros in rescue funds, Greece had to adopt unpopular austerity reforms and pension cuts.


Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

Updated 31 min 50 sec ago

Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

  • France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17
  • The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers

NANTES, France: As dusk fell over Nantes in western France, dozens of residents of an apartment block came out onto their balconies for a half-hour fitness session to beat the inertia of life under lockdown while the coronavirus sweeps across the country.
Music pumped out as the group put itself through a routine of star jumps, squats and jogging on the spot. The workout caught on after Pierre Planchenaud began exercising alone. Before long, his neighbors wanted to join in.
“It meant everyone could relax after a day where you stay shut up indoors or in isolation,” said Planchenaud, who works in advertising. “It enables people to have a bit of freedom and take their minds off things.”
France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17 and on Friday Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the unprecedented peacetime restrictions on public life would remain in place until at least April 15. The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers.
Public gatherings are banned, schools and universities are closed and all non-essential businesses have shut down, with people allowed out of their homes only to buy groceries, carry out essential work, exercise or seek medical care.
Stress caused by fear of the disease is compounded by isolation, mental health experts say, and the French government has reported a marked increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.
“We started last night and we’re having a great time with the family. It’s cool,” said firefighter resident Guillaume Ricquier.
Planchenaud leads the workout from a central courtyard, with the makeshift class wrapping up just in time to join others nationwide clapping and cheering in support of the health care workers battling to save the lives of coronavirus sufferers.
“It brings a new energy,” said osteopath Laura Martinez. “We said last night it needs to keep going after the lockdown.”