Mayors from across Greece joined anti-austerity protesters Wednesday and marched on parliament, as lawmakers prepared to vote for thousands of public-sector job cuts and transfers.
The latest austerity measures will put 12,500 public-sector staff, mostly teachers and municipal workers, in a program that subjects them to involuntary transfers and possible dismissals. It will also pave the way for 15,000 layoffs by the end of next year.
City halls across the country have been closed this week, and the prospect of staff cuts also triggered a general strike on Tuesday.
The job cuts and transferred to be voted on this evening were demanded by Greece's emergency creditors — the International Monetary Fund and other countries using the euro — as a condition for continued bailout payments.
"It is the same thing every time. You come at the last minute and tell us that you have to destroy our society to save the country," left-wing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras told the coalition government said during Wednesday's debate.
"I repeat: It is impossible to resolve the debt crisis in Greece and in southern Europe without a political agreement. It's not a Greek problem. It's a euro problem."
The vote is the first major political test for Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras since a left-wing party abandoned his coalition government last month, leaving it with a reduced majority.
Greece has been kept out of bankruptcy since it started receiving rescue loans in 2010 from other euro countries and the IMF, but austerity measures demanded in return have caused a dramatic increase in poverty and unemployment.
The 13-month-old coalition government claims it has already made progress in stabilizing the crisis-hit economy. On Wednesday conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras made a televised statement to announce a sales tax cut for restaurant and catering services from 23 percent to 13 percent — the first tax reduction since the crisis started in late 2009.
Samaras is due to meet in Athens Thursday with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who is expected to discuss a program of German support for small and medium-sized Greek businesses.
Outside parliament, staff targeted in the cuts took part in a third straight day of protests.
"It's simple. We cannot accept being made the easy target ... and adding people to the list of unemployed when things are so bad," said Costas Askounis, mayor of the Kallithea area in greater Athens and head of a national mayor's association.
Municipal police officers from around Greece rallied through central Athens with their motorcycles and patrol cars. The force, whose duties include monitoring street vendors and parking, is due to be disbanded and incorporated into national police after officers are suspended on reduced pay for up to eight months.
The head of their union, Apostolos Kossivas, told the AP that no job guarantees had been provided in writing, adding that his colleagues would continue daily protests if the bill passes.
"We cannot understand why this is happening. We asked the government if there was any financial gain — they said no. Did we provide a bad service? — They said no," Kossivas said.
"So we think they just wanted to make up the quota they needed for job cuts, and are proceeding without a plan."