Greek police have fired teargas and pepper spray at protesting pensioners after a group of them attempted to push over a police van near the office of the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, whose leftwing government faces mounting pressure over planned austerity measures.
More than a thousand people, some of them with canes, took part in the rally in Athens on Monday. Protesters chanted: “Shame on you, shame on you!” with one group of elderly demonstrators trying to tip over the van, triggering the police response.
Protesters ran, with one grey-haired man falling to his knees and coughing and several others appearing to be in distress.
No arrests or injuries were reported. In response to opposition party criticism, police said they were suspending indefinitely the use of teargas at “rallies of workers and pensioners”.
Greece’s leftwing government has imposed cuts on pensions this year as part of its bailout commitments to international lenders, with the International Monetary Fund pressing for tougher measures.
The latest round of cuts follows six years of bailout-related austerity measures, while nearly a quarter of Greeks remain unemployed and no longer eligible for state benefits.
“This is a fight for our life. The country has been driven to desperation,” Dimos Koumbouris, a pension protest organiser, said. “They have torn our income to shreds – taking money that people earned with hard work. We have to protest today and keep protesting. There’s no other option.”
Years of cuts have pushed nearly half of pensioners’ monthly income below the official poverty line, according to a survey published last week by the National Pension Network, which represents Greece’s main retiree associations.
Fifty-two per cent of Greek households rely on pensions directly or indirectly to meet monthly expenses, the survey found.
Tsipras’s government is facing mounting public discontent as it prepares to approve new measures in the winter – including loosening employment rights and mortgage protections.