Greek leftists angered by government backtracking on election promises to ease austerity measures took to the streets of Athens for the first time since the leftist Syriza party came to power last month in an overnight melee that saw shop windows smashed, cars torched and rocks hurled at riot police.
The violence by about 50 black-clad militants followed a Thursday night demonstration by more than 400 leftists opposed to the new government’s capitulation to more budget cuts and tax collection in exchange for continued cash lifelines from European creditors already owed $270 billion.
Early Friday, the German parliament voted to approve the four-month bailout extension for Greece that was agreed on Tuesday among foreign ministers of the 19 countries that use the euro currency and the bailout-supervising “troika” -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
German lawmakers voted 542-32 to endorse the extension that gives Athens more time to craft a repayment plan. The measure did not concede to the campaign-trail demands of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Syriza for a major write-down of the debt and an end to the troika’s power to dictate Greek budget matters.
After a Jan. 25 snap election, Syriza came to power on a populist message of recovering Greek “sovereignty” over the country’s taxing and spending policies after five years of brutal austerity measures that have led to a 25% contraction of gross domestic product and 27% unemployment.
Tsipras and other leftist politicians promised new government jobs, public-sector pay hikes and social service improvements that would have sapped the treasury and caused Greece to default on its bailout payments.
The government recommitted Tuesday to adhering to its lenders’ conditions for continued funding tranches, including more aggressive tax collection among a population and business community notorious for evasion and under-reporting income.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that Greeks owed their treasury $86 billion in unpaid taxes last year, and rank the country the weakest among its 34 industrialized member states in collecting what its citizens owe.
The Thursday night protest was loud but peaceful until the group of more militant protesters began tossing firebombs and stones in a rampage that lasted into early Friday.
No serious injuries were reported, and police mostly remained on the sidelines, news agencies in Athens reported.
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