Tear gas fired at Greek pensioners in anti-austerity rally

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek police fired tear gas and pepper spray at pensioners during an anti-austerity protest in which some of the elderly demonstrators tried to tip over a riot police bus blocking a road to the prime minister's office.

More than a thousand people, some of them with canes, took part in Monday's demonstration against more cuts to pensions. Dozens chanted "Shame on you, shame on you!" as they tried to break through a police cordon.

Others were trying to push over a bus when officers fired the pepper spray. Protesters ran, with one gray-haired man falling to his knees and coughing and several others appearing to be in distress. No arrests or injuries were reported.

Greece's left-wing government has imposed new 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 follow 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," pension protest organizer Dimos Koumbouris told the Associated Press.

"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, an organization that represents Greece's main retiree associations.

And 52 percent of Greek households rely on pensions directly or indirectly to meet monthly expenses, the survey found.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing government is facing mounting public discontent as it braces for a new round of unpopular measures in the winter — including loosening employment rights and mortgage protections.

An opinion poll published Sunday found 85 percent of Greeks believed the country was headed in the wrong direction, with 51 percent backing an early general election, and 42 percent picking the conservative opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis as most suited to be prime minister, compared with 23 percent backing Tsipras.


Srdjan Nedeljkovic in Athens contributed. Follow Gatopoulos at http://twitter.com/dgatopoulos


Online: IMF statement on Greece http://bit.ly/2cX4cyg