UPDATE : Greek riot police break up Acropolis protest
Greek riot police break up Acropolis protest
By Louisa Gouliamaki (AFP) – 5 hours ago
ATHENS — Riot police on Thursday stormed the Acropolis to break up a blockade of Greece's top monument by protesting culture ministry staff as the government faced fresh opposition to its austerity policies.
The police broke into the monument perimeter through a side entrance and used tear gas to disperse media covering the demonstration as they tried to corner the protesters and evacuate the site, which was closed to the public for the second day.
The protesters grabbed on to fence railings to prevent their removal from the hilltop site overlooking central Athens as gathered tourists snapped pictures.
At least one protester was detained as the police emptied the site, an AFP photographer said.
But the monument did not reopen to visitors and the protesters' syndicate pledged to return on Friday.
"The protest will continue," the head of temporary ministry staff Nikos Hasomeris said after the police operation.
"The authorities must accept their responsibilities. Today they destroyed the archaeological site," he said.
The union representing temporary culture ministry staff began the protest on Tuesday, initially without barring visitors, against the imminent dismissal of 320 fixed-term employees whose contracts expire at the end of the month.
They also want the state to settle unpaid salaries which they say are worth five million euros (seven million dollars) over two years.
One German tourist, who did not give his name, said he sympathised with the protesters' claims.
"I am OK with the protest, but from the other side, we came here to visit the Acropolis and we can't. This is of course bothering me. I hope that the problem will be solved today, that is what we were told," he said.
The Acropolis, Athens' ancient citadel, draws thousands of visitors every year. Some of its marble temples recently underwent extensive restoration.
Greece's second largest union that represents civil servants, Adedy, blasted the government over the Acropolis operation.
"We call on the government to deal with the issue seriously and to consider the painful effects it has on employment," Adedy said.
Short-term ministry staff with renewable contracts, who say they are at the mercy of layoffs, often shut down the Acropolis to demand job security.
Greece is in the grip of an unprecedented debt crisis and only narrowly avoided national bankruptcy a few months ago.
To reduce costs, the Socialist government has imposed severe cutbacks on state spending and a hiring freeze on public sector jobs.
Greece's deputy culture minister offered to talk to the protesters but said the government would not break existing employment laws to assist them.
"Thousands of short-term workers have been laid off until now, the law applies to all," deputy culture minister Telemachos Hytiris told Flash Radio.
"We cannot promise them full-term contracts."
The austerity measures have pushed up unemployment and plunged the country into a deepening recession. The state statistics agency on Thursday released figures showing that over 600,000 people were jobless in July.
The Socialist government is attempting to overhaul ailing state companies that cost taxpayers over a billion euros every year.
The reforms are scrutinised by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund which bailed out Greece in May with a huge rescue loan.
But the measures have angered unions which pledge to fight back.
Strong resistance has come from the railway union, whose members on Thursday staged a 24-hour strike and demonstrated in Athens.