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Posts Tagged ‘protests’

Belarus jails 600 for election protests

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2010 at 4:32 am

MINSK, Dec 21, 2010 (AFP) – Belarus on Tuesday jailed 600 demonstrators detained during a mass rally against the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, defying fierce Western condemnation of the bloody crackdown.

Police officials said the protesters would be held for up to 15 days while prosecutors probed their alleged involvement in “organising mass disturbances” — a crime that carries a sentence of up to 15 years.

Belarus opposition supporters light candles near a picture of jailed opposition presidential candidate Andrey Sannikov at a prison’s wall in Minsk during a demonstration on December 21, 2010. AFP

“It is not a fact that all of them will be released after 15 days,” Minsk police spokesman Alexander Lastovsky told AFP.

Lukashenko vowed Monday to come down hard on all those responsible for taking part in Sunday’s unauthorised demonstration against his regime.

“That is it,” Lukashenko declared in a nationally-televised press conference. “Our country will have no more senseless, muddle-headed democracy.”

“I warned you,” he added. “Kids — you are messing with the wrong guy.”

The wave of arrests left relatives searching for loved ones in the city’s prisons, with groups scouring the long list of names posted on the walls of one facility and waiting outside its entrance gate in the hope of receiving any news.

Once labelled the last dictator of Europe by Washington, Lukashenko was re-elected to a fourth term Sunday with nearly 80 percent of the ballot on Soviet-style turnout of more than 90 percent.

His nearest rival received less than three percent of the vote in an election that the challengers vowed to contest even before the results became official.

Seven of Lukashenko’s nine election rivals were arrested in what appears to be a massive crackdown on the opposition, with five candidates beaten up by riot police.

Three of them — Ales Mikhalevich, Vladimir Nekliaev and Andrei Sannikov — were being held by the KGB, while two others — Rygor Katusev and Dmitry Uss — were released under orders not to leave the city, their offices said.

Two more candidates — Nikolai Statkevich and Vitaly Rymanshevsky — are still believed to be in police detention.

The Belarussian justice ministry also threatened to ban parties and movements that took part in the protests, with the warning affecting organisations headed by two of the challengers.

The clampdown came despite signals in the last months that Lukashenko was seeking to smooth his isolated former Soviet country’s frayed relations with both the European Union and Russia.

EU officials had promised to offer Belarus up to 3.5 billion dollars in loans should it stage a free and fair election. And Russia resolved most of its trade conflicts with its smaller neighbour in the run-up to the vote.

But while Russia refused to condemn the violence, with President Dmitry Medvedev calling it an “internal matter” for Belarus, Belarus was roundly admonished by both the US and the European Union.

“The United States strongly condemns the actions that the government of Belarus has taken to undermine the democratic process,” President Barack Obama’s spokesman Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

Three heavyweight US senators warned Belarus it would pay “a very heavy cost” for the crackdown.

“Having pursued engagement with Belarus in recent months, the United States and our allies should now consider a tougher approach,” Senators John Kerry, John McCain and Joe Lieberman said in a joint statement.

The European Union’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton meanwhile called on the regime to “immediately release” the opposition leaders.

But the authorities said they were were in fact being lenient and had let “a lot of people” go without prosecution.

“We released several foreign nationals, including journalists,” said top Minsk police official Leonid Farmagei.

The Belarussian Journalists’ Association said that 25 media representatives had been arrested in all. At least four reporters were known to have been jailed for up to 15 days while their cases were being studied.

The KGB was also holding two reporters — Irina Halip, a journalist with Moscow’s opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper, and Natalia Radina, a worker with Belarus’ Charter97 news website, one of the campaign offices said.

Source: SGGP

Protests in Kabul ahead of much-delayed election results

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 at 6:49 am

Afghan election candidates took to the streets of Kabul on Wednesday to protest against a polling process they say was corrupt and shameful ahead of the expected announcement of final results from the September 18 vote.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) has said it would announce the winners of 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or wolesi jirga , after a delay that lasted more than two months due to investigations into fraud complaints.

The credibility of the eventual result will weigh heavily on U.S. President Barack Obama’s review of his Afghan war strategy, due to be released next month, amid rising violence and sagging public support, especially after a fraud-marred presidential election last year.

Consistent allegations of vote fraud in both polls have raised questions about the credibility of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government at a time when U.S. and NATO officials have been re-examining their long-term commitment in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010

The protesters, mostly candidates who failed to win a seat and their supporters, have organized a string of demonstrations in the capital and warned that failure to address grievances about the poll would only push Afghans toward the insurgency.

Some of the protesters, including a handful of women and turban-wearing men, looked like they had travelled from outside Kabul.

“We have gathered here today to protest against the illegal election,” said lawmaker Noor ul Haq Olomi, from southern Kandahar province, the Taliban’s heartland.

“It doesn’t matter who is winning or losing, we will continue to protest until the officials in the government hear us and the Afghan people learn about the widespread fraud that happened during this election.”

Disgruntled candidates, lawmakers and supporters have in recent weeks called for the September poll to be scrapped and a new election ordered.

A U.N.-backed election watchdog said on Sunday nearly one in 10 winning candidates had been disqualified for fraud.

Sunday’s disqualifications by the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) cleared the way for the Afghan government’s IEC to release the final results.

There were more than 6,000 complaints lodged with ECC and the IEC has already thrown out almost a quarter of the 5.6 million votes cast as invalid. The IEC also is being investigated by the attorney general’s office over election fraud.

Late on Tuesday, Afghan television also reported two election officials had been suspended by the attorney general’s office for “making statements against the national interest”. The attorney general’s office declined immediate comment.

Source: SGGP

Italian authorities seek to stop violent garbage protests

In Uncategorized on October 24, 2010 at 11:58 am

ROME, Oct 24, 2010 (AFP) – Authorities planned Sunday to temporarily halt waste deliveries to try to stop violent protests over a garbage tip outside Naples as clashes erupted again overnight between police and demonstrators.

Hundreds of people joined more demonstrations late Saturday in Terzigno and overnight several dozen protestors hurled rocks at police who responded with tear gas, according to footage broadcast by Sky TG-24 television.

At least six officers have been injured in the clashes, officials said.

In a bid to calm tensions over the waste crisis, Italy’s security chief Guido Bertolaso late Saturday signed a plan to halt delivery of waste to the tip at Terzigno for three days.

Riot police scatters demonstartors protesting against the opening of a new dump on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Terzigno on October 23, 2010. AFP

It also calls for the decision on whether to open a second garbage tip to be postponed indefinitely provided the demonstrations stop.

These moves to resolve the waste crisis are set to be examined Sunday by the towns concerned in the Naples region whose mayors are later expected to meet with Bertolaso to sign off on the plan.

The protestors’ blockade of Terzigno’s existing dump has caused 2,400 tonnes of rubbish to pile up in the streets of Naples, the official responsible for the city’s hygiene, Paolo Giacomelli, said Saturday.

The proposed new dump, the biggest in Europe, would be 800 metres (875 yards) from the edge of Terzigno in the Vesuvius National Park, some 135 square kilometres (52 square miles) of outstanding natural beauty in the Bay of Naples.

The protected area of rare wildlife and plants includes Mount Vesuvius, best known for its volcanic eruption in 79 AD that destroyed the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The long-running waste issue has been blamed on a lack of local incinerators, and landfill sites controlled by the local mafia, the Camorra, some of which were used for the illegal dumping of toxic waste.

Meanwhile, the European environment commissioner, Janez Potocnik, said Saturday Italy faced legal action by the European Union and massive fines for failing to improve waste management around Naples.

Source: SGGP

Japan PM’s regret over China anti-Japan protests

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 at 6:25 am

TOKYO (AFP) – Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Monday expressed regret over a wave of anti-Japanese protests in China at the weekend, sparked by a territorial dispute between the Asian neighbours.

Thousands of Chinese protesters took to the streets of several cities at the weekend, including Chengdu, Xian and Zhengzhou, to assert China’s claim to a disputed island chain, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China.

Chinese protestors march past a statue of Mao Zedong during a demonstration against Japan in Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan province on October 16, 2010. AFP

In the rallies, demonstrators smashed windows of Japanese stores and shouted angry anti-Japanese slogans.

Kan, reacting to the protests in parliament on Monday, said: “The government has expressed its regret over the demonstrations against Japan on the 16th and 17th in China and strongly requested that Japanese companies be protected.”

Asia’s two biggest economies and traditional rivals have been embroiled in the worst spat in years after Japan arrested a Chinese trawler captain near the disputed islands almost six weeks ago, although it later released him.

Beijing and Tokyo have sought to repair their relationship, but weekend protests in both countries showed that the incident has stirred strong nationalistic passions.

Kan stressed that ties between the two nations constitute “a very important bilateral relationship”.

“Recently we have faced some issues, but both sides need to make efforts to handle the situation calmly so as to seek a strategic mutually beneficial relationship,” the premier said.

Source: SGGP

Protests as Australian PM delays climate action

In Uncategorized on July 23, 2010 at 11:17 am

SYDNEY, July 23, 2010 (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard Friday announced a new “citizens assembly” to guide action on global warming, in a major pre-election speech which was hit by protests and condemned by critics.

Security staff leapt on one demonstrator who invaded the auditorium and led him away in handcuffs, while chanting could be heard through much of Gillard’s address at a Brisbane university campus.

This Sky News television screen grab shows a demonstrator (2nd-R) being tackled by security staff on July 23, 2010 inside the venue at a Brisbane University Campus. AFP

The prime minister made only a slight pause and smiled briefly during the disturbance, which constituted the first hiccup of her tightly managed campaign for August 21 elections.

The 150-strong assembly, to consult over 12 months, was the centrepiece of Gillard’s long-awaited announcement on the environment, a key voting issue in the world’s biggest per capita polluter.

“Through a dedicated discussion, a representative group of Australians drawn from all ages, parts of the country and walks of life will help move us forward,” she said.

“And if I’m wrong and that group of Australians is not ready for the consequence of change, that will be a clear warning bell that our community has not been persuaded as deeply as required about the need for transformational change.”

Gillard said the assembly, helped by a new commission to sift scientific advice, would examine the case for a carbon-trading scheme which twice failed in parliament and was then shelved by ex-leader Kevin Rudd, badly damaging his support.

Australia’s first woman prime minister said she remained committed to a “market-based” solution to pollution as the country bids to cut emissions by five percent from 2000 levels by 2020.

Businesses would be given incentives to act immediately on pollution and Australia would make use of renewable energy, Gillard added, warning that she would only act “in step” with major economies.

But the initiative drew an outraged response from the Greens party, environmental groups and some academics. Greenpeace said Gillard was pandering to the powerful mining industry — seen as influential in some marginal seats.

“I’m pretty disgusted with what the prime minister came out with today,” said Greens Senator Christine Milne. “It was really a pretty weak position on climate change.”

Professor Warwick McKibbin, director of the Research School of Economics at the Australian National University, called the approach “extremely disappointing”.

“The science and expert input has made a strong case for action for more than a decade. A majority of Australians already want to take action on climate change,” he said.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott said the announcement was just “camouflage” for plans to introduce a carbon tax, while a coalition of green groups said the proposal was an “insult” and “appalling”.

“The citizens’ assembly is basically an insult to the millions of people who did vote for climate change action in 2007,” said the World Wildlife Fund’s Gilly Llewellyn.

Climate change, along with immigration and the economy, is considered a key issue for next month’s elections, where Gillard is seeking a public mandate after her shock ousting of Rudd in last month’s party coup.

Rudd won 2007 elections on an environmental platform and signed the Kyoto Protocol, describing climate change as the “greatest challenge of our generation”.

But the environmental push was derailed by the carbon scheme’s failure and last year’s unproductive UN climate summit in Copenhagen, where Rudd was a leading protagonist.

Gillard’s speech came as United States lawmakers scrapped plans to introduce climate change legislation, potentially setting back global efforts to control the Earth’s warming.

The prime minister, who is in a narrow race with Abbott, was also confronted by about a dozen demonstrators as she arrived for the speech. She later shrugged off the protests.

“We’re at a university, and universities tend to be home to passionate young Australians who make their voices heard in a variety of ways,” she said. “And we heard some voices today.”

Source: SGGP

Protests at UN office in Sri Lanka over war panel

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2010 at 12:13 pm

COLOMBO, July 6, 2010 (AFP) – Demonstrators led by a Sri Lankan cabinet minister surrounded the United Nations office in Colombo on Tuesday to protest against a UN panel set up to probe war crimes allegations.

Housing Minister Wimal Weerawansa shouted anti-UN slogans as crowds broke through police barricades and rallied at the entrance to the building.

“We will not leave. We will sit down and protest here until the secretary-general withdraws the panel,” Weerawansa told about 1,500 cheering supporters.

They burnt an effigy of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and carried banners that accused him of being a puppet of the United States.

Sri Lankan National Freedom Front activists beat an effigy of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during a protest rally in Colombo on July 6, 2010. AFP

Sri Lanka has refused to cooperate with the panel, which was named by Ban last month to advise on “accountability issues” during the war between government forces and the Tamil Tiger separatists.

The government has also refused to grant visas to the three members of the panel, meaning they will be unable to visit the island.

The Tiger guerrillas were defeated after decades of conflict in May 2009, and the UN has said that at least 7,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the first four months of last year.

Many diplomats see the UN panel, headed by Marzuki Darusman, a former Indonesian attorney general, as a precursor to a full-blown war crimes investigation.

Neither the UN office in Colombo nor the government commented on Tuesday’s protest.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has repeatedly rejected international calls to investigate war crimes allegations.

Sri Lanka managed to stave off a UN resolution last year with the help of Russia and China, key allies and arms suppliers to the island.

Ban has asked his three-member panel to complete its work in four months.

Source: SGGP

3 protesters killed in protests in Indian Kashmir

In Uncategorized on July 1, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Police and paramilitary troops fired on thousands of anti-India protesters in Kashmir, killing at least three people in the worst street violence in a year, police said.

Faced with more than two weeks of increasingly strident protests in the divided Himalayan region, government forces have been accused of killing a total of 11 people in Indian-controlled Kashmir. Protesters demanding independence have attacked troops with rocks and sticks, and government forces have responded by launching tear gas, charging with batons and opening fire.

Muslim militants have fought in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir since 1989 for independence or merger with Pakistan.

A Kashmiri throws a brick at policemen during a protest in Srinagar, India, Tuesday, June 29, 2010.

While anti-India demonstrations are frequent in the region, the latest round of street protests was triggered by a police investigation earlier this month that found Indian army soldiers had killed three Kashmiri civilians in May. The investigation said the soldiers staged a gunbattle in order to claim the dead were militants. The army responded by suspending two officers.

Clashes broke out across the region again Tuesday, and three civilians were killed the town of Anantnag, 35 miles (55 kilometers) south of the main city of Srinagar, police said. Local residents said that one of the dead, Ishtiyaq Ahmed Khanday, 15, was not part of any protests and was killed in the compound of his home.

Meanwhile, thousands of police in riot gear patrolled the city of Srinagar, where shops, businesses and government offices were shut.

Police and paramilitary soldiers drove through neighborhoods warning people to stay indoors and not participate in pro-independence protests, said Afaq Wani, a Srinagar resident. He said police were imposing a de facto curfew.

Sajad Ahmed, a local police officer, said that no curfew has been imposed but that the state government has banned the assembly in public of more than five people. Troops also erected steel barricades and laid razor wire across main roads to prevent public gatherings.

“We’re imposing restrictions to avoid clashes,” Ahmed said.

Similar restrictions were also imposed in several other towns in the region. In the violence-torn town of Sopore, 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of Srinagar, an indefinite curfew was in force for the fifth consecutive day.

A separate gunbattle near the India-Pakistan frontier broke out on Monday when a group of suspected militants infiltrated into Indian territory in the Nowgam sector, sparking a gunbattle that killed five of the suspected insurgents and three Indian soldiers, said Col. Vineet Sood, an army spokesman.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan and India have fought two wars over Kashmir. India accuses Pakistan of funding and training militants in the Pakistani-held portion of Kashmir and helping them slip over to the Indian side to fight. Islamabad denies the charge.

More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict since 1989.

Source: SGGP

Fresh protests at World Cup as Mandela family mourns

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2010 at 4:27 am

Fresh protests by stadium workers erupted Thursday, adding to a sombre tone at the World Cup as Nelson Mandela mourned his great-granddaughter and the host reeled from a stunning defeat.

Hundreds of mourners joined the Mandela family at the funeral for 13-year-old Zenani Mandela, who died in a car accident on the eve of the World Cup after a concert in Soweto.

Heart-broken, 91-year-old Mandela pulled out of the the World Cup opener. The funeral was his first public appearance since February, when he went to parliament to mark the 20th anniversary of his release from an apartheid prison.

The service at a private school in Johannesburg was filled with song, tears and sometimes laughter at memories of the young girl, who beamed with delight at meeting Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo on her birthday two days before her death.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela arrives for the funeral of his great-granddaughter Zenani Mandela at St Stithian’s College Chapel in Sandton, north of Johannesburg

But across the country in Cape Town, frustrations again boiled over among stadium security guards who clashed with police for the second time this week in a dispute over their pay.

Police fired a stun grenade and rubber bullets to break up the protest by 200 security guards outside the office of Stallion Security, according to the company contracted to provide stewards at four World Cup stadiums.

“They were warned that it’s an illegal gathering. They were given time to disperse and they didn’t. After several attempts we used a stun grenade and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd,” said police spokesman Andre Traut.

“A number of security guards were then arrested for illegal gathering.”

Police were forced to take over security at four World Cup stadiums after wildcat strikes by stewards.

“If anybody else disrupts any other stadium we are ready, in the shortest possible time, to take over that stadium,” police chief Bheki Cele said.

“There shall be no disruption of 2010 FIFA World Cup matches here in South Africa.”

World Cup boss Danny Jordaan said he was satisfied that the strike disturbances were under control, as police had quickly stepped in.

“I think they’ve done an incredible job. In Cape town within three hours, everything was in place and the game started on time,” he said.

“We just had another meeting with police yesterday and we’re satisfied everything is in place.”

After winning its World Cup bid six years ago, South Africa has fended off accusations about its ability to host the tournament with problems mounting after a triumphant opening.

Bus drivers also staged a brief wildcat strike Monday, while protesters marched Wednesday in Durban against government spending on the tournament.

Stallion Security’s security contracts were cancelled after the steward strikes spread, but the company said the local organising committee had played a role in setting wages.

“The Psira (Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority) linked rates were determined at the LOC’s insistence,” said chief executive Clive Zulberg, the Sapa news agency reported.

The national spirit also dampened after South Africa’s 3-0 thrashing from Uruguay, heightening fears that the host might become the first in World Cup history not make it to the second round.

But Jordaan said supporters will hope again and return to blowing vuvuzelas, the controversial trumpets whose loud buzz has been the trade-mark of the tournament.

“For first time in this tournament, the vuvuzelas were silent yesterday. This nation was silent, this is significant,” Jordaan said.

As cold wintery weather gripped the tournament, motorists were warned on Thursday to take care on roads after heavy snowfalls in parts of the country.

The government has pushed fans to avoid road congestion by using public transport, which received a 40-billion-rand (5.3-billion-dollar, 4.3-billion-euro) upgrade ahead of the tournament.

But a power outage that crippled commuter rail locomotives stranded 2,000 World Cup fans until early Thursday morning after trains were forced to switch from electric to steam locomotives.

Authorities were also accused of scoring an own goal by charging two Dutch women with ambush marketing over a stunt featuring dozens of fans wearing orange mini-dresses.

Source: SGGP

Thai PM demands quick end to protests

In Uncategorized on May 9, 2010 at 4:46 am

BANGKOK, May 9, 2010 (AFP) – Thailand’s premier called Sunday for a swift end to mass anti-government protests following fresh bloodshed, saying he had a back-up plan to solve the crisis if the demonstrators refuse to disperse.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva demanded the opposition “Red Shirts” give a “clear answer” by Monday on whether they will accept his offer to hold elections in mid-November if they disperse within the next few days.

“You should stop the rally quickly for safety reasons,” said Abhisit, whose reconciliation “roadmap” aims to defuse a crippling two-month confrontation and envisages holding elections on November 14.

“Terrorists and people who live abroad want to disrupt the reconciliation plan,” he said on national television.

“No matter whether they (the protesters) stop the rally or not, we have a back-up plan which will lead to a resolution of the problem,” he added.

Thai pro-government demonstrators hold national flags during a small rally at the King Taksin statue in Bangkok on May 8, 2010. AFP photo

The government and the “Red Shirt” opposition protesters Saturday reaffirmed their commitment to a reconciliation process aimed at ending outbreaks of civil violence that have left 29 people dead and about 1,000 injured.

The latest casualties were two police officers who were killed in gun and grenade attacks on Friday and Saturday close to the Red Shirts’ massive rally encampment, which has shut down most of Bangkok’s main shopping district.

The opposition protesters denied involvement in the attacks and nobody has claimed responsibility.

The Reds, who broadly support fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, were working on their own proposals to end the political crisis after thousands more supporters bolstered their rally in the heart of Bangkok.

Thaksin, a telecoms tycoon-turned-politician, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, now lives in exile to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.

The Red Shirts have signed up to the peace process but are demanding a firm date for the dissolution of parliament before disbanding their base, where they are barricaded behind piles of fuel-soaked tyres and razor wire.

Both sides said the attacks were the work of groups intent on derailing Abhisit’s peace roadmap.

The premier said the latest attacks were “carried out by terrorists who don’t want the reconciliation plan.”

The Reds also said the latest killings were carried out by elements intent on sabotaging the peace proposals.

“This will not distract us or derail the process,” Reds leader Nattawut Saikuar said Saturday. However, he indicated that an agreement was not yet within reach.

“The five-point roadmap plan which is proposed by Abhisit we already understand. But on our part, we need a few more days to come up with our own proposals, which will be flexible,” he said.

Crowds at the Reds camp have swelled to as many as 100,000 people in the past, but earlier this week when a resolution appeared near, numbers dwindled to just a few thousand as a weary air descended on the rally area.

On Saturday, however, their ranks were boosted by 5,000 more supporters who arrived from the movement’s heartland in Thailand’s rural, impoverished northeast.

In its colour-coded crisis, Thailand is largely split between the mainly rural poor and urban working class Reds and the pro-establishment “Yellow Shirts.”

The Yellows — who blockaded Bangkok’s two main airports in 2008 in their own protests — have rejected the roadmap and election plan and called on the prime minister to resign.

The Reds condemn Abhisit’s administration as illegitimate because it came to power in an army-backed 2008 parliamentary vote after a controversial court ruling ousted Thaksin’s elected allies.

Source: SGGP

Greek unions call fresh protests ahead of austerity vote

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Greek unions mobilised Thursday for new demonstrations against draconian austerity cuts as the government raced to push the unprecedented measures through parliament a day after deadly rioting.

A protest near the Parliament building in the center of Athens.

The main unions called their members to new protests from 6 pm (1500 GMT) undeterred by the deaths of three people, reportedly including a pregnant woman, in a firebombed Athens bank the previous day when demonstrations degenerated.

Condemning “the fires, blind violence, vandalism”, the million-member GSEE private sector union said in a statement “we are determined to pursue and extend our struggle to meet our fair demands.”

As the government insisted it would not back down on the austerity drive, eurozone leaders scrambled to keep Greece’s debt crisis from spreading to other highly indebted countries like Spain and Portugal

The European Central Bank held one of its most crucial meetings ever in Lisbon to rein in the Greek debt crisis while eurozone leaders prepared to meet on Friday in Brussels to contemplate the future of their embattled bloc.

As unions prepared for a fresh round of demonstrations, Greek lawmakers were debating the government spending cuts and tax hikes with voting on the legislation due to begin in the afternoon.

Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told parliament the austerity drive, which eurozone countries and the IMF have demanded in return for a bailout, was the only option.

“The only way to escape bankruptcy is to accept the aid money, which reaches 110 billion euros… and the precondition is to agree on the three-year austerity plan,” Papaconstantinou said during the debate.

Average Greeks voiced sadness and bitterness in the streets of central Athens as the nation was still reeling from the shock killing of the bank workers.

“I’m sad and I’m angry because those people who threw the Molotov cocktails don’t respect the lives of other people,” said Chris, a 30-year-old who works for a small private company and who participated in the demonstrations.

Anita, who works in a bank not far from the bank that caught fire, said that the firebombing blamed on young hooligans was “the saddest thing that could ever happen to Greece”

“I was working in my bank, we saw the fire, it could have happened to me”,” she said. “This has nothing to do with the protests, the demonstration was peaceful.”

As protestors marched on Wednesday against the government’s plans to avert national bankruptcy and the strike shut down much of the country, some demonstrations turned violent.

Demonstrators tried to storm the parliament and hooded youths hurled petrol bombs at stores and businesses in central Athens, prompting police to respond with tear gas and charges.

Police said two women and one man died at a branch of the Marfin bank which caught fire after rioters broke a window and threw Molotov cocktails inside.

One of the women who died was four months pregnant, according to doctors quoted by the Greek press.

At least two other buildings — the Athens prefecture and one used by tax officials — caught fire after other firebomb attacks on the margins of the protests.

The general strike was the first major test of the Socialist government’s resolve to push through unprecedented measures since agreeing to a 110 billion euro (143 billion dollar) EU and IMF debt bailout at the weekend.

Officers arrested at least 12 people in Athens and another 37 in the northern city of Thessaloniki, where protestors also targeted stores and banks in the city centre before riot police dispersed them.

The violence in Athens sparked concerns on global financial markets that Greece’s huge bailout could veer off course and that its debt crisis could engulf other countries.

The euro dived to the lowest level for more than one year as the deadly protests in debt-plagued Greece cast a shadow over the future of the eurozone and the single currency, dealers said.

Moody’s ratings agency on Thursday warned that the fallout from the Greek debt crisis presented a risk of “contagion” for the credit rating of banks in Britain, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Spain helped investors immediate fears of contagion after the government successfully raised 2.345 billion euros in the country’s first debt sale since its credit rating was cut last week.


Source: SGGP