ATHENS — Representatives of Greece’s bailout creditors received an earful on the first day of new talks to potentially add to the financially battered country’s austerity burden.
Armed with a bullhorn, a few dozen civil servants chanted anti-austerity slogans Tuesday outside the room where the officials were meeting Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras. The protesters later blocked the lifts and main entrance, forcing police to spirit representatives of the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund out by an emergency exit.
Greece has survived on international loans since 2010. Dismal financial stewardship, loss of investor confidence, and the global recession brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. Successive governments have passed deeply resented spending cuts and tax hikes to secure loans totaling $324 billion. The protest came a day before the two largest labor unions are planning a general strike.
The ongoing talks with EU and IMF officials are focused on Greece’s 2014 budget gap. While Stournaras has said the shortfall will be around $675 million, he conceded creditors expect it to be five times as big. At stake is the next installment of rescue loans of $1.35 billion.
The conservative-led government insists it will not agree to new across-the-board spending cuts. The 17-month-old coalition already faces a possible revolt by its own lawmakers over a proposed new property tax and argues it cannot inflict more pain on a population that has suffered an average 40 percent loss in disposable income since 2009 and seen unemployment spike to 28 percent.