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Greeks divided over cuts, Sarkozy vows support
Published in Saudi Press Agency on 06 - 03 - 2010

Greeks are divided over the government's increasingly harsh austerity measures, polls showed on Saturday, a day after thousands marched in Athens to protest against steps to rein in the country's swollen budget deficit, according to Reuters.
One poll, carried out by Kapa Research for the To Vima newspaper, showed 46.6 percent of 1,044 people surveyed backed new tax hikes and spending cuts worth 4.8 billion euros ($6.5 billion) while 47.9 percent disapproved.
The surveys indicated strong opposition to some specific measures, however, showing the government cannot expect an easy ride grappling with a budget crisis that has rocked the euro.
Police clashed with dozens of stone-throwing youths in Athens on Friday but protests were much more low key than riots in 2008 and an estimated total turnout of about 12,000 was a small fraction of the capital's population of 3 million.
Unions representing half the country's 5 million strong workforce have brought forward a national strike to March 11.
Saturday's surveys came after EU leaders expressed confidence on Friday that the new measures would be enough for Greece not to need a bailout from its European neighbours.
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou received political support but no promise of any specific financial aid at talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and with Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker in Luxembourg.
Papandreou pledged on Saturday not to let Greece default.
But French President Nicolas Sarkozy made clear he was ready to help if Greece's financial situation were to deteriorate.
Papandreou is due in Paris on Sunday as part of a tour to seek backing for his country, whose debt has swollen to about 300 billion euros, well above its annual economic output.
"If we created the euro, we cannot let a country fall that is in the euro zone. Otherwise, there was no point in creating the euro," Sarkozy said at a meeting with farmers. "The euro has no sense if there is no solidarity."
A second survey by pollster Alco published in Sunday's Proto Thema newspaper showed 50 percent of 1,000 respondents had a negative view of the government following the latest bout of belt-tightening while 41 percent had a positive view.
A survey conducted by the same pollster in January but asking different questions showed Papandreou's PASOK party enjoyed support of 34.7 percent. Two polls carried out in late February before the latest cuts showed just over half of Greeks believed the government was tackling the crisis effectively.
On the downside for the government, the latest Alco poll showed 86.2 percent considered the new cuts unfair, 71.9 percent described them as tough and 64 percent said Papandreou had yet to convince them the package could pull Greece out of crisis.
"SUPERHUMAN EFFORT"
Both surveys showed strong opposition to measures immediately affecting voters such as higher value added tax, cuts to public sector holiday bonuses and a pension freeze.
The results echoed a survey published on Friday which also showed strong support for measures such as higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol and luxury goods.
The Proto Thema newspaper concluded that its poll showed strong opposition to the measures but that government support was holding firm and in line with levels seen at the time of last October's snap general election.
Papandreou's socialist PASOK party has 160 out of 300 seats in parliament, ensuring his latest budget measures were passed on Friday, and replaced a conservative administration accused of concealing the full extent of Greece's economic woes.
Ratings agencies and other EU governments have said ability to deliver will be key to determining whether Greece can re-establish its credibility diplomatically and as a borrower.
Economists also say the performance of the Greek economy, and the extent to which the cuts hamper any recovery from recession, will be a major risk in the coming months.
"The choice facing all Greeks today is collapse or rescuing Greece," Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos said in an interview published in the Greek Isotimia newspaper on Saturday.
Workers spent the night boarding up broken shop windows and painting over graffiti in Athens after Friday's protests but Papandreou saved his condemnation for financial market speculators, pledging to lead any EU efforts to rein them in.
"It is not just unfair, it is also undemocratic that while the government is putting in a superhuman effort, a few kids in New York and elsewhere, seated in front of their computers, undermine it," he told the Kosmos Tou Ependyti newspaper.
"We won't let Greece default," he added.
Public opposition to the government cutbacks has so far been relatively muted by both Greek and European standards.
In Ireland, which has also slashed spending aggressively but did so much more quickly, some 100,000 protesters last year marched through Dublin, which is one-third the size of Athens.
The latest protests in Greece have been much less violent than those seen in December 2008, when dozens of people were injured, hundreds arrested, scores of shops destroyed and more than 15,000 police deployed on the streets of Athens alone.


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