ATHENS – Worried that soaring prices will jump again over the market effect of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, thousands of Greeks took to the streets in protest, led by KKE Communist party.
Although the New Democracy government has pledged to keep pumping in subsidies to help households deal with skyrocketing energy prices, gasoline is already more expensive too over the invasion that rocked the world.
Some 10,000 demonstrators – led by the Communists – gathered outside Parliament, wanting more done about rising inflation that has seen the cost of goods rise rapidly, and wanting laws increasing working hour changes.
“We are a river of anger and outrage,”steel unionist Panagiotis Doukas told Agence France-Presse, which reported on the protests. “We claim our right to a respectable life… we say a thunderous ‘no’ to the anti-popular policies that have torn apart our lives,” he said.
The news agency said that official data showed electricity prices in January alone went up 56 percent, while fuel hikes were 21.6 percent and natural gas skyrocketed by 156 percent.
The cost of living “could on average increase by over two percent in 2022,” Panagiotis Petrakis, a Professor of Economics at the University of Athens, told the news agency of the impact.
The government has already spent 44 billion euros ($49.6 billion) in supporting businesses and low-income households during the COVID-19 pandemic that will begin a third year in March.
Despite battling economic problems on a number of fronts, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said Greece would make an early repayment of bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and use the interest rate savings “to support households and businesses”.
The last tranche of IMF loans extended to Greece during the 2010-2018 debt crisis, worth 1.85 billion euros ($2.09 billion), is to be repaid by April, a source not named told AFP.
The government said it expects a big rebound this year even during the lingering pandemic and that growth could hit 4.5 percent, basing that on expected mass returns of tourists with the official season about to open. It fell 9 percent in 2020.
Tourism brings in as much as 18-20 percent of Greece’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of 177.7 billion euros ($200.3 billion) and at its height employed almost a million people directly and indirectly.
Tourism in 2021, which had come back partially from the devastating 2020 when international air traffice almost halted, was 10 billion euros ($11.27 billion,) still far off the previous record year of 2021.
Still, the country’s unemployment rate remains high at near 13 percent, one of the highest in the Eurozone, still feeling the harsh effects of a fiscal and austerity crisis from 2010-18 that required three international bailouts of 362 billion euros ($408.05) to keep the sinking economy afloat.