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Greece

Greek PM courts opposition as discontent over pensions grows

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

By Karolina Tagaris and Lefteris Papadimas

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will seek the backing of opposition party leaders for unpopular pension reforms demanded under an international bailout which have brought thousands to the streets in protest.

Greece has promised its European and IMF lenders a comprehensive pension reform plan by December but Tsipras faces resistance to changes from a country worn down by six years of recession and austerity.

Tsipras’ government majority has shrunk to just three seats as it pushes through the latest austerity measures and the prime minister requested on Thursday a party leaders’ meeting once the country’s president returns from a visit to Italy on Friday.

The leaders will discuss pension reform, among other important issues such as the refugee crisis and education, government officials told Reuters, with the aim to reach the widest possible consensus.

Asked if that meant Tsipras would ask for opposition backing when the reforms are voted in parliament, one government official said reaching that level of agreement would be “especially desirable”.

The small, centrist To Potami party said it would attend the meeting but would not give its unconditional support.

So far, the government has passed legislation raising the retirement age, increasing health care contributions and scrapping most early retirement benefits.

It also plans to merge several pension funds into one and cut back on supplementary pensions, prompting protests. Greece’s costly pension system has been criticised as being not viable and a permanent drag on the state budget.

But Greeks have responded angrily to the reforms, weary after years of crisis which has hurt their incomes, jobs and living standards. Greece’s economy is forecast at best to stagnate this year and contract mildly next year.

Thousands of Greek pensioners demonstrated in central Athens on Thursday against cuts demanded under the bailout, and the public sector union called its second nationwide anti-austerity strike in under a month.

“I haven’t got money to buy sweets for my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and they’re (the government) fooling us,” 86-year-old former construction worker Aristides Manikas, whose pension has been cut to 617 euros, said at the rally.

The biggest public and private sector unions, representing about 2.6 million workers, plan a 24-hour strike against pension reform on Dec 3.

The unions brought thousands to the streets earlier this month in the biggest domestic challenge to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras since he was elected in January.

ADEDY, the public sector union, described the move as “the final blow to social insurance”.

“Society, which has suffered brutally from the bailout, will overturn the austerity measures,” it said in a statement.


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