Greece: More protests, strikes ahead of major austerity vote

An elderly woman begs next to banners announcing tomorrow's general strike in Athens, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. Greece is gearing up for the first general strike since the left-wing Syriza-led government initially came to power last January, with workers across the country to walk off the job protesting yet more spending cuts and tax hikes that are part of conditions for the country’s third international bailout. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Protesters took to the streets of central Athens for the second day running Thursday, hours before lawmakers vote in parliament on measures that will impose additional income losses for many Greeks for another three years.

In spite of torrential rain, hundreds of pensioners marched to parliament to express their anger at the latest planned cuts to their incomes.

“No more tax theft,” they chanted. Pensions have been cut sharply over the past seven years as successive Greek governments have slashed spending in return for bailout money to avoid bankruptcy.

Their protest comes a day after a general strike disrupted services across the country. Ongoing stoppages have kept ferries tied up at port for three days and played havoc with public transport.

Left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is seeking parliamentary approval for the pension cuts and further tax hikes through 2020, as part of an agreement with international bailout creditors to release the next bailout installment.

With all opposition parties opposed to the measures, Tsipras is relying on his three-seat majority in the 300-member parliament. So far, there are no declared dissenters.

Tsipras initially came to power in 2015 promising to bring an end to the austerity that had been imposed during Greece’s first two international bailouts. But his coalition government soon found itself facing a disastrous Greek default, as the country was unable to service its debt without external help.

Tsipras signed up to a third bailout later that year, but not before calling a referendum that led to a run on the banks, forcing the government to impose capital controls. The banking restrictions and limits on cash withdrawals remain.

The new belt-tightening measures, expected to be voted on around midnight Thursday, will be imposed after Greece’s current third bailout ends next year.

Unions and the opposition have compared the new reforms to those of a fourth bailout, but without the corresponding funding from international creditors. The government vehemently rejects the accusation, emphasizing that it will also take what it has dubbed counter-measures to relieve poverty.