Greeks protest against soaring cost of living

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Athens (AFP) – Thousands of Greeks joined union protests in several cities on Saturday against a sharp rise in the cost of living as the government pledged to boost emergency household aid.

In Athens, police say around 10,000 demonstrators led by the Communist-affiliated PAME union gathered outside parliament to protest soaring inflation and a new labor law increasing flexible working hours of work.

“We are a river of anger and indignation,” said steel trade unionist Panagiotis Doukas.

“We claim our right to a respectable life… we say a resounding ‘no’ to the anti-grassroots policies that have torn our lives apart,” he said.

Greek inflation in January soared to 6.2% year-on-year, amid fears that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could further push up energy and food prices.

According to official data, electricity prices in January jumped by 56%, fuel by 21.6% and natural gas by 156%.

The cost of living “could increase on average by more than 2% in 2022”, Panagiotis Petrakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens, told AFP.

The government has already spent 44 billion euros ($50 billion) to support businesses and low-income households during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Friday evening, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said Greece would conclude an early repayment of International Monetary Fund bailout loans and use the interest rate savings “to support households and businesses”.

The last tranche of IMF loans granted to Greece during the 2010-2018 debt crisis, amounting to 1.85 billion euros, must be repaid by April, the report told this week. AFP a source familiar with the matter.

Greeks at risk of poverty or social exclusion are estimated at 28.9%, just behind other EU laggards Bulgaria and Romania Louisa GOULIAMAKIAFP

Greece is targeting 4.5% economic growth this year and expects additional revenue from the vital tourism industry.

Tourism represents about a quarter of the Greek economy. Revenue in 2021 amounted to more than 10 billion euros.

Unemployment rate 13%

But Greece is also struggling with an unemployment rate of around 13%, one of the highest in the eurozone, a legacy of the debt crisis that lasted nearly a decade.

The pandemic hit just as Greece was beginning to recover from the crisis that had cost it a quarter of national output.

In 2020, the Greek economy shrank by 9%.

Those at risk of poverty or social exclusion in Greece are estimated at 28.9%, just behind other EU laggards Bulgaria and Romania, according to the Hellenic Anti-Poverty Network group.

The group found that in 2020, 44.6% of households were struggling to pay rent or mortgage payments, while 16.7% had insufficient heating.

According to Nikos Vettas, managing director of industry think tank IOVE, the Greek government is facing economic challenges despite a strong performance in tourism and exports in 2021.

The main opposition party, Syriza, is demanding additional social benefits after criticizing the government for allocating six billion euros to a recent purchase of French fighter jets and frigates.

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