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First real taste of austerity unrest
CYPRUS saw its first real taste of austerity-related unrest yesterday when hundreds of casual government workers due to be laid off, stormed first through the finance ministry and then parliament.
A total of 992 seasonal government employees will be out of work starting from today as part of government cuts, about half of whom took to the streets yesterday. The move aims to save €9 million a year.
Inside parliament, Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly was briefing the House Finance Committee on the status of talks with international lenders, the troika.
The first fracas occurred at the finance ministry where protesters had gathered outside waving banners and chanting: ‘No to poverty and unemployment, the rich should pay and not the workers’, ‘Instead of getting rid of foreigners, they’re getting rid of us’.
The protesters also called for the ‘greedy thieving bankers’ to be handed over to the people.
Emotions were running high by that time and when the group lunged for the entrance, the hopelessly inadequate police barricade was no match for the pushing protesters.
After managing to enter the main hall of the finance ministry, a group of the protesters started making their way upstairs in an attempt to get to the minister’s office, although he was not there as ministry staff looked on from a safe distance. The angry protesters were stopped by union leaders who convinced them to continue their demonstration outside the parliament.
Some stayed outside the ministry where they approved a resolution they planned to give to Shiarly and House President, Yiannakis Omirou.
One protester told reporters: “I have seven children and I make €1,100 a month, that’s already not enough to pay my electricity bill or to make the payment on my loan. What are we supposed to do now? We are imprisoned in our own homes. We can’t even afford to go to a cafι for a coffee any more.”
Another female protester said: “If they’re trying to eradicate the middle class then they’ve managed it, that’s all I have to say.”
A third said: “It’s all right for them [politicians]. They have work. Everyone here has three or four people at home depending on them.”
He also complained about the numerous free benefits offered to Turkish Cypriots. “What about us [Greek] Cypriots? Or are we only considered Cypriots when they want us for the army?”
When part of the group from the finance ministry arrived at the House, another surge towards the entrance seemed to take police by surprise. They blew their whistles but to no avail as they were outnumbered and overrun.
Part of the angry mob, trying to make their way to the finance committee meeting where the minister was, ended up at the legal affairs committee instead where its chairman Ionas Nicolaou assured them he would take their issues up at his committee as one woman screamed abuse at the top of her lungs, and another was in tears as she appealed to the committee.
Another part of the group did find their way to a room where the finance committee was meeting but were stopped from entering.
The head of the House President’s office, Antonis Koutalianos, who had earlier been heckled when he tried to speak to the protesters outside the House, suggested the demonstrators send a group of representatives to see the House President but they demanded that they all go to see him. This meant that a meeting was not possible.
Eventually the situation calmed down and by noon all of the protesters had left the parliament area while their representatives met with party officials who all assured them that their problems would be raised at various committee meetings and that they would do whatever was in their power to make sure they didn’t lose their jobs.