Elderly Greeks hold anti-government rallies, demanding pre-austerity pensions

ATHENS, Greece – Holding up walking sticks and chanting anti-government slogans, thousands of pensioners have joined protest rallies around Greece to demand that the country’s new left-wing government end cuts to their monthly payments.

The rallies were held Wednesday in several Greek cities, the largest in central Athens, where protesters marched to the Labor Ministry.

The march comes amid ongoing uncertainty about Greece’s bailout as the new Syriza government, led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras struggles to convince international creditors it has a credible reform plan.

An agreement is necessary for Greece to unlock remaining funds in its bailout programs. Successive Greek governments have had to enact tough austerity measures, such as cuts to spending and pensions over the past five years to get their hands on funds to stave off bankruptcy and a potential Greek exit from the euro currency.

Previous governments “have axed our pensions and our health care … and we will fight all the way to get them back,” said Dimos Koumbouris, a protest organizer and senior official in the Greek Communist Party.

With time running out before Greece has to make some big debt repayments, there was speculation Wednesday that Greece may delay a payment due to the International Monetary Fund next week. Germany’s Spiegel news magazine quoted Greek Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis as saying that without a deal, Athens could delay the April 9 loan repayment worth around 450 million euros ($485 million).

But the government swiftly denied it was considering that option.

The government’s lenient approach toward frequent protests was tested Wednesday outside parliament, where a group of anarchist protesters reached the building’s entrance. They unfurled a banner and scattered leaflets in support of inmates convicted of terrorism-related offences who are on hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

Police said 21 people were detained for questioning over the incident.