THESSALONIKI, Greece – Protesting municipal workers blockaded the entrance of city hall in Greece's second largest city Thursday, amid mounting anger against new austerity cuts that will affect thousands of public sector workers.
The protesters unfurled a large banner reading "occupied" over the entrance of the building in Thessaloniki. City halls in other cities were reportedly also taken over — a union estimated "dozens" had been occupied, a claim the government has not confirmed.
In Athens, some 2,000 protesters filed through the city center — blowing whistles and sounding off small sirens — on their way to parliament, where the new austerity cuts are to be voted on next week.
The measures are part of a broad plan to slash the size of Greece's bloated public sector, which counts some 670,000 employees. The government has committed to firing 15,000 people by the end of 2014 and transferring another 12,500 to new positions this year.
Major unions are backing the municipal workers with several protests planned in Athens and a general strike on July 16, the day the new austerity bill is likely to be voted.
"The people here today and the workers have really shown that they can resist (austerity measures)," Odysseas Drivalas, leader of the civil servants' union ADEDY said.
"I hope ... all the Greek people will take part in the general strike, with all the workers and unemployed present because this situation is untenable."
Bailed-out Greece is suffering through a sixth year of recession with unemployment reaching 26.9 percent in April, according to data reported Thursday by the Greek Statistical Authority. It needs to push through the public sector staff reforms to receive 6.8 billion euros ($8.9 billion) in loans approved this week by rescue creditors.
The conservative-led coalition government saw its majority slashed in parliament when a small left wing coalition partner pulled out of the government, protesting the sudden closure of state broadcaster ERT.