Police: Small protests clogging Greek capital at rate of twice a day

ATHENS, Greece – Small protests are blocking streets in central Athens at a rate of twice a day, the government said Tuesday, as it sought support from unions to draw up new guidelines to keep traffic running.

Public Order Minister Nikolaos Dendias said that in 2012 traffic was stopped in Athens by 796 separate demonstrations, each attended by fewer than 200 people.

Dendias met the leader of Greece’s largest union, the GSEE, and announced that the government planned to introduce legislation to prevent small public rallies from blocking traffic.

Although major protest rallies are now less frequent than at the start of the financial crisis in late 2009, small demonstrations remain common in a country that lost an average of nearly 700 jobs a day in 2012.

“I fully understand the great difficulties our citizens are enduring. And I respect their right to protest,” Dendias said.

“But for every right, there is a limit. People also have the right to travel across the city and to engage in a basic level of economic activity.”

Greece’s retail sector has been hammered by harsh austerity measures that include widespread pay cuts and tax hikes, as well as the frequent demonstrations that are mostly directed against the government.

A study last year by the National Confederation of Greek Commerce, an association representing small and medium-sized businesses, found that 28 per cent of retail stores in central Athens had closed during the crisis.

The country’s tourism season is getting underway and the government hopes that strong bookings could help pull the economy out of recession, which is in its sixth consecutive year.

But unions on Tuesday angrily rejected the government’s plans to curb demonstrations.

“No one wants to lose a day’s pay … but striking is the worker’s last resort,” Nikos Kioutsoukis, general secretary of the GSEE said.

“There are no unions that close off the historic centre of Athens because it is their hobby.”