Angry over his statements that the Greek minimum wage is too high and should be further reduced despite a 22 percent previous cut, demonstrators took over the office of Finance Ministry General Secretary Giorgos Mergos on the morning of Feb. 14, media reports said.
They were identified as members of the youth organization of the major opposition party Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA,) which is opposed to ongoing austerity measures being imposed by the government.
Mergos later said his comments were misinterpreted and that he didn’t say what he said. The protesters didn’t buy the backing up. “The only answer to those who are planning to impose new measures designed to impoverish workers and young people is collective and defiant struggles to overturn the government and the memorandums,” they said in a statement. Riot police, the government’s tactic against protesters and strikers, were sent to the scene.
Public Order Minister Nikos Dendias ordered an administrative inquiry into allegations that two SYRIZA Members of Parliament were beaten up by police during an anti-austerity protest outside the finance ministry building. SYRIZA MPs Kostas Barkas and Vangelis Diamantopoulos claimed they were attacked by members of the MAT riot squad and would sue, Kathimerini reported.
SYRIZA issued a statement defending what it said was “a symbolic protest” against the government’s austerity drive and slamming alleged police violence. (The government) seems to think that by using force and state oppression against those who resist it will be able to ensure the continuation of the barbaric austerity policies of the memorandum,” the statement said.
Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said the protesters damaged Mergos’s office after storming the building and accused SYRIZA chief Alexis Tsipras of “duplicity.” Invading an office, stealing and damaging property, Kedikoglou said, “is perfectly in line with the strategy of tension that Tsipras purports to condemn.”
In an interview with BBC’s Paul Mason, Tsipras accused the Greek government of operating a strategy of “blackmail, terrorism and tension.” The Greek Communist Party (KKE) issued a statement expressing its support for SYRIZA’s protest.
Earlier, SYRIZA leaders said Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is intent on reducing wages to the level paid workers in Romania and Bulgaria. The storm of criticism over Mergos’ comments led Finance Minister Yiannis Stournaras to deny there are no plans to further reduce the minimum wage, which is now 586 euros ($782) per month, or $195.50 per week ($4.88 per hour) although SYRIZA said the government will later proceed to do so.