Unionists protest austerity

A tourist takes pictures of the banners over the defensive walls of the ancient Acropolis on Tuesday in Greece. About 100 protesters from the Greek Communist Party unfurled the banners protesting the sweeping austerity measures aimed at digging the countr

Nikolas Giakoumidis

ATHENS, Greece -- Angry Greek unionists took to the streets Tuesday to protest harsh austerity measures imposed under an international bailout to save Greece from looming bankruptcy, while financial markets were far from assured that the promised loans equal to $144 billion could douse Europe's smoldering sovereign debt crisis.

About 4,000 striking teachers and students marched in Athens to protest the cuts, carrying black flags, while some scuffled with police. Earlier, about 100 Communist Party supporters broke through the gates of the Acropolis and hung banners in Greek and English reading "Peoples of Europe Rise Up," to the amusement of tourists allowed in despite the disruption.

The cutbacks were announced on Sunday, as a precondition for the loans from the International Monetary Fund and the other 15 EU countries using the euro. The aid, spread over three years, is Greece's only hope of paying off euro8.5 billion ($11 billion) in debt that matures May 19 -- or defaulting.

Yet market reaction to the bailout deal was "lukewarm at best," said analyst Mitul Kotecha at Credit Agricole CIB Research.

"Concerns about parliamentary approvals, implementation-execution risk, prospects for relatively weaker growth in Europe, as well as contagion to Spain and Portugal, has tempered any enthusiasm towards the package," Kotecha said.

"Despite the large size of the loan package there are growing worries that it will be insufficient to cover Greece's funding requirements over the next three years. All of this implies that the euro will remain vulnerable for some time yet."

State employees, including school teachers and hospital workers, began a 48-hour strike Tuesday. Larger protests are expected today, when a general strike will halt air, sea and rail transport while effectively shutting down the country's bloated public sector.