ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek retirees staged an anti-government rally in Athens on Thursday to protest a new round of cuts under the country's international bailout program.
More than 5,000 protesters marched to the labor ministry and outside parliament, burning copies of a letter send by Labor Minister George Katrougalos explaining the pension changes.
"They have torn us apart with all the cuts, and they are telling us we are supposed to be happy with these measures. We are sending the minister's letter back to him, and will continue our protests in Athens and other cities," protest organizer Dimos Koumbouris said.
The country's largest labor union also called a 24-hour strike for Dec. 8.
Separate anti-austerity protests were also planned later Thursday in Greece's second-largest city, Thessaloniki.
Under pressure to make deeper cuts, the Greek government has imposed reductions on most supplementary pensions paid out by smaller state-backed funds.
Inspectors from the International Monetary Fund and European Union institutions are due to return to Athens this month to oversee major changes to labor laws and union regulations, as well as measures to ease pressure on domestic banks from high levels of non-performing loans.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' left-wing government is trailing opposition conservatives in opinion polls, with the gap widening in recent weeks, after extending emergency taxes imposed by previous government that he had promised to scrap.
Speaking at a Greek-Arab business conference across town, Tsipras said bailout lenders would grant Greece a first round of debt relief measures by the end of the year. He also insisted that Greece's ambitious growth targets for 2017 were attainable and promised to qualify for the European Central Bank's bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing.
"We have kept our commitments. The successful completion of the first (bailout) review demonstrates our willingness to reform," Tsipras said.
"Reforms are needed for economic recovery, but they are not enough. We all know the high national debt is a hurdle. That's why we are seeking agreement to combine reforms with the actions necessary — with specific measures — to alleviate the debt," he said.
Thanassis Stavrakis in Athens and Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki, Greece contributed. Follow Gatopoulos at http://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos and Kantouris at http://www.twitter.com/CostasKantouris