Europe

Greece debt crisis: Scuffles at pension reforms protest

Protesters of the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME, clash with riot police, as they try to break through a police formation during a rally against the pension reform system, outside the parliament, in Athens, Greece, 8 January 2016. Image copyright EPA
Image caption Protesters from the Communist-affiliated trade union PAME apparently clashed with police

Scuffles broke out in central Athens during a protest against the Greek government's proposed pension reforms.

Tensions reportedly flared when demonstrators from the Communist-affiliated PAME union broke past a line of riot police near the prime minister's office.

The next stage of Greece's bailout from the EU and the IMF is dependent on huge savings from the pension system.

Representatives of the creditors are due to begin a review later this month.

Pensions have been one of the main obstacles in the Greek debt crisis negotiations.

'About to become beggars'

About 100 protesters supporting the PAME workers' union displayed a huge banner outside the office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday demanding the proposals be scrapped.

Riot officers fired tear gas after demonstrators broke a police line.

Earlier, hundreds more public sector workers and pensioners marched in the city centre, Reuters reports.

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Image copyright EPA
Image caption Scuffles broke out as demonstrators broke through police lines
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Protesters managed to unfurl a huge banned in front of the prime minister's office in Maximos Mansion

In order to find savings worth €1.8bn or 1% of GDP in 2016, the Greek government is proposing increasing employer contributions and merging pension funds among other measures.

Although the plans do not involve any immediate cuts to pensions, they have angered trade unions and failed to draw support from opposition parties.

"The government tricked the workers and the farmers into thinking that it will create a better society with more justice and less unemployment," Reuters quotes 74-year-old protester Babis Kattis as saying.

"Pensioners are about to become beggars."

Alongside shrinking pensions, the elderly have already been hard hit by high unemployment, increases in VAT and rising taxes.

Before winning last January's election, Alexis Tsipras campaigned with a promise not to cut pensions again.

He said on Sunday that his government would not give in to "unreasonable" demands from creditors, but admitted the pension system was "on the brink of collapse" and needed to be overhauled.

His government aims to submit the pension reforms bill to parliament by mid-January and have it voted into law by early February, reports say.

It hopes to secure talks on debt relief after creditors have evaluated the progress on the bailout programme, with a review starting this month.

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