By Renee Maltezou
An overwhelming majority of Greeks believe new austerity measures the government has promised its international lenders in exchange for more financial aid are unfair and hurt the poorest sections of society, a poll showed on Saturday.
Near-bankrupt Greece needs the European Union and International Monetary Fund's blessing on measures worth nearly 12 billion euros ($16 billion) to unlock its next tranche of aid, without which it faces default and a potential exit from the euro zone.
The conservative-led coalition is struggling to strike a balance between demands from its international lenders and angry voters who see no light at the end of the austerity tunnel.
More than 90 percent of Greeks believe the planned spending cuts and reforms are unfair and burden the poor, a survey by polling agency MRB for Sunday's edition of Realnews showed.
Still, about 67 percent of those polled want Greece to stay in the euro. Speculation of Greece exiting the single currency has receded since Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's pro-euro, pro-bailout government took power in June, but remains alive as Athens struggles to meet its bailout targets.
In an interview with Greek daily Kathimerini, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti - who is also pushing through contested reforms in his country - urged Athens to stay the course on austerity and assured Greeks the euro zone was not looking to cut Greece loose.
"A Greek exit from the euro area is a scenario that nobody contemplates," he told the newspaper's Sunday edition.
"Greece has already made a lot of progress and must continue the solid process of fiscal discipline and structural reforms because this is in its best interest."
So far, Greece's government has reached agreement on 9.5 billion euros of the spending cuts - the bulk of it from slashing wages, pensions and welfare benefits.
Athens also plans an increase in the retirement age to 67 from 65 and cuts in military and health spending.
Only 33 percent of the 1,003 surveyed said they believed these measures can help fix Greece's fiscal woes, while the vast majority said they were pessimistic about Greece's future and expected more austerity measures in coming years.
The poll was conducted from September 18-20, as the government and inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF struggled to hammer out the new austerity package.
They failed to clinch a deal at the last round of talks before the troika left Athens this weekend and the negotiations, marred by tension and disagreement over public sector reform, are due to resume in a week when the inspectors return.
In the meantime, the country's main private and public sector union plans to stage a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, the first major walkout since a new government took power.
According to MRB, the conservative New Democracy party would once again win the vote if elections were held now but the main opposition party, the radical leftist SYRIZA group, has narrowed the gap to just 0.5 percentage points from 1.8 points previously.
(Editing by Sophie Hares)
Photo: A protester holds up a Greek flag during an anti-austerity demonstration in front of the parliament in Athens February 22, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis
Source: Reuters, 22 September 2012