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ATHENS: Thousands of Greeks on Saturday joined union protests in several cities against a steep rise in the cost of living as the government vowed to boost emergency support for households.

In Athens, police said some 10,000 demonstrators led by Communist-affiliated union PAME gathered outside parliament to protest spiking inflation and a new labour law increasing working hour flexibility.

“We are a river of anger and outrage,” said steel unionist Panagiotis Doukas.

“We claim our right to a respectable life... we say a thunderous ‘no’ to the anti-popular policies that have torn apart our lives,” he said.

Greek inflation in January surged to 6.2 percent in an annual comparison amid fears Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will further push up energy and food prices.

According to official data, electricity prices in January jumped by 56 percent, fuel by 21.6 percent and natural gas by a whopping 156 percent.

The cost of living “could on average increase by over two percent in 2022,” Panagiotis Petrakis, a professor of economics at the University of Athens, told AFP.

The government has already spent 44 billion euros ($50 billion) in supporting businesses and low-income households during the Covid-19 pandemic. Late Friday, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said Greece would conclude an early repayment of bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and use the interest rate savings “to support households and businesses”.

The last tranche of IMF loans extended to Greece during the 2010-2018 debt crisis, worth 1.85 billion euros, is to be repaid by April, a source with knowledge of the issue told AFP this week.

Greece is aiming for 4.5-percent economic growth this year and expects additional revenue from the vital tourism industry. Tourism accounts for around a quarter of the Greek economy. Receipts in 2021 stood at over 10 billion euros. But Greece is also saddled with an unemployment rate of around 13 percent, one of the highest in the eurozone, a legacy of the near-decade debt crisis.

The pandemic struck just as Greece was beginning to recover from the crisis that saw it lose a quarter of national output. In 2020, the Greek economy shrank nine percent.

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