ATHENS, Greece – Greek authorities are deploying thousands of police to monitor an annual protest march in Athens on Thursday, which is taking place at the height of a vicious financial crisis that has seen many violent demonstrations.
With loan-dependent Greece trapped in a three-year recession and saddled with record unemployment, the demonstration to the U.S. embassy will be the first test of public sentiment for the new coalition government of Lucas Papademos, a technocrat whom polls show to enjoy widespread popularity.
Anti-austerity protesters angered by nearly two years of harsh belt-tightening are expected to turn out in strength in the afternoon march, together with students, left wing groups and anarchists. Some 7,000 police will be on duty.
The annual protest commemorates the 1973 bloody squashing of a student uprising by the military dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967-74. But it has traditionally served as a vent for anti-government protests that often turn violent.
Papademos, a 64-year-old former central banker, easily won a confidence vote in parliament Wednesday but faces a daunting task in the 100 days until early elections in February. He must stave off looming bankruptcy by securing the country's next rescue loan installment, pass a new austerity budget and transform paper pledges of sweeping public sector reform into action.
After its borrowing costs ballooned in 2010, debt-hobbled Greece turned to its European partners and the International Monetary Fund, winning a euro110 billion ($148 billion) bailout in return for deeply resented austerity to cut deficits bloated by years of government overspending.
But it became clear that the rescue loans were not enough, and European leaders agreed on a second euro130 billion ($175 billion) bailout last month with an additional euro100 billion ($135 billion) debt writedown by banks and other holders of Greek government bonds. Complex talks with banks on the writedown started in Athens Wednesday, and were set to continue in Frankfurt.
Papademos heads a coalition of the majority Socialists, conservative New Democracy and the small right-wing populist LAOS party, which has nationalist and anti-immigration roots.
The government's most pressing task is to secure release of an euro8 billion ($11 billion) loan installment -- frozen by the EU as it awaits written commitments from all parties in the new coalition that they will honor the terms of the new debt agreement after the next election.
Greek conservatives have balked at the demand, despite warnings the country will default before Christmas without the money, leaving Papademos to seek a compromise with the European Union.
He will meet in Brussels with top EU officials on Monday.