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Athens protesters are those hit hardest, priest says

16 February 2012

by Ed Thornton

Defiant: a pensioner gestures during an anti-austerity rally in Athens on Tuesday REUTERS

Defiant: a pensioner gestures during an anti-austerity rally in Athens on Tuesday REUTERS

THE violence and looting in central Athens on Sunday night was carried out by “young men on the rampage”, the senior chaplain at St Paul’s, Athens, Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, said on Tuesday.

Canon Bradshaw said that there had been peaceful demonstrations on Saturday, and during the day on Sunday, after the Greek parliament passed a package of severe austerity measures, in return for €130 billion (£109 billion) of bailout loans. But on Sunday evening young men from anarchist groups infiltrated the demonstration, and began setting buildings on fire and looting.

“The fires are largely not the work of the protesters, but of young men on the rampage,” Canon Bradshaw said. “Those that are doing the protesting are the ones who are going to be hit hardest, and are being hit hardest. They are peaceful pro­testers.”

Canon Bradshaw said that the austerity programme in Greece was “biting hard”: many shops were closing, jobs were disappearing, and older people were losing income from their pensions. Cleaners and res­taurant workers, many of whom were refugees or migrants, had been especially affected.

Canon Bradshaw said that some members of his congregation con­tinued to work in restaurants, but had not been paid for three months. “One of the reasons they stay on is because at the end of the day they can take food that is left over; but how do they pay the rent? Who’s paying into their national-insurance schemes?”

Canon Bradshaw has asked wor­shippers at St Paul’s to bring basic food to Sunday services, which is passed to members of the congre­gation who are struggling. Appeals have been made for blankets and warm clothing, and a fund has been set up “to assist those in the direst of straits”, such as families with young children who cannot pay their electricity bill.

Canon Bradshaw said that St Paul’s had received some assistance from churches in the Netherlands, but, at the time of speaking, had not called on the diocese in Europe for extra funding. He said that that might be discussed shortly, however.

The Orthodox Church is feeding 10,000 people a day in Athens, and 250,000 people across Greece. A project in Athens with which Canon Bradshaw is involved is providing 800 meals a day for refugees and mi­grants. “The numbers coming to receive food are on the increase. Demand has shot up in the past six months.”

The situation “is going to get worse”, Canon Bradshaw said. The Greek Prime Minister, Lucas Papa­demos, has said that, if the neces­sary reforms are imple­mented now, eco­nomic growth could return by 2013. “There is still a lot of misery and hardship to pass through before that takes place,” Canon Bradshaw said.

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