Greek PM faces week of protests over new austerity bill

Greece's prime minister faces protests this week over a bill that must pass for the country to receive a fresh tranche of EU-IMF aid.

"Stress test in the parliament and on the streets" said the front page To Vima weekly on Sunday, while left-leaning Eleftherotypia discussed a "political heatwave."

One month after conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's controversial shutdown of state broadcaster ERT, a bill outlining reforms including a redeployment plan affecting thousands of civil servants has caused widespread protests.

If the bill passes as expected on Wednesday, 4,200 civil servants will have to be placed on a reserve scheme until the end of July.

Municipal authorities are on strike until the day of the vote, with the protests peaking on Tuesday, as the country's two main unions have called a general strike under the slogan "We are people and we will not become numbers."

Debt-wracked Greece has had to enact a string of austerity measures over the past four years in return for multi-billion euro international bailouts to avoid default.

The measures are deeply unpopular in the country that recently entered a sixth straight year of recession and where unemployment has climbed to 27 percent, a level unseen in Greece's modern history. Among the youth, unemployment stands at 64 percent.

Last week, eurozone finance ministers agreed to release 6.8 billion euros ($8.9 billion) of fresh aid to Greece in return for the implementation of fresh reforms.

Under the terms of its EU-IMF bailout deal, Greece is expected to axe 4,000 state jobs and redeploy 12,500 civil servants by the end of the year.

The civil servants to be placed on reserve will receive 75 percent of their salary for an eight-month period, at the end of which, if they have not accepted a transfer to another administrative department, they risk losing their jobs.

Affecting teachers, school wardens and municipal staff, the latest cuts have caused fresh outrage.

Some 3,500 municipal police are expected to become integrated into the national police force.

Samaras has defended the measures.

"Would you rather have a municipal police that only deals with illegal parking, or fortify the police force?" Samaras asked Proto Thema newspaper in an interview Sunday.

"For every single person eventually let go, somebody else who is currently unemployed will be hired. Overall, in two years 15,000 civil servants out of 700,000 will leave, [which is] only two percent," Samaras said in an interview on Sunday.

"The redeployment scheme and the compulsory redundancies ... are necessary tools for the upgrade of personnel in public administration," Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told liberal Kathimerini Sunday.

Wednesday's bill would also restructure the tax collecting system and reform public health insurance.

Greece's conservative-socialist coalition lost its former partner, the Democratic Left, earlier in June, because of the state broadcaster's controversial shutdown.

Separately, lawmakers this week will also be called upon to decide on the future of its state broadcaster, which has been running a temporary programme since last Wednesday.