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Joanna Kakissis reports that thousands of Greek government workers took the streets today in Athens, to protest a plan to freeze their wages.
MARCO WERMAN: In other news today European finance ministers discussed a potential bail out. This time they're not saving a big bank or an ailing auto maker. They're trying to avoid the economic collapse of a whole country. Greece is struggling to pay its debts. The government has come up with a plan to avoid bankruptcy. It involves freezing the salaries of its own employees. Government workers took to the street today to protest. Joanna Kakissis reports from Athens.
JOANNA KAKISSIS: Seven thousand public sector workers marched in central Athens today. In soft, drizzling rain, they chanted slogans of resistance against the government's plans to freeze their wages. They waived hand painted banners that read "we won't pay". The demonstration was peaceful, but protestors were firm. Thirty-year-old George Baroutas says the government shouldn't balance its books on the backs of the working and middle class. He's a teacher who lives with his parents and he says he cannot survive on his current salary.
GEORGE BAROUTAS: I think that I'm personally collapsed. So are other people. I don't care about the state. I think that they can take money from rich people, they can take money from banks, they can take money from people that have earned much money from Greek working people.
KAKISSIS: A third of all Greek jobs are in the public sector. Most civil servants here can't get fired or laid off. So the government says it has no option but to freeze wages and bonuses. There are also plans to increase the average retirement age from 61 to 63, and to trim pensions. Greece has to do something, and quickly. It struggle to service its 300 billion year old debt, has sent waves of panic throughout Europe's financial markets. A Greek default could undermine the Euro, the currency used by Greece and 15 other European Union nations. Prime Minister George Papandreou has said the country is standing on the edge of a cliff. This metaphor scares Takis Roubis, a 49-year-old educator and union leader who was at today's march. But he doesn't want to be the scapegoat for what he calls the crooks and thieves who he says have drained Greece's coffers. He says Greeks understand how difficult times are, but they want those who created the mess to pay, not ordinary Greeks. Elementary school teacher Christina Ladda agrees. She said the culprits are in the government. She doesn't trust politicians whom she says have a history of stealing Greek taxpayer money. Laddas says there are people who are getting rich right now, in the middle of the crisis. Their profits are gigantic, she claims. And people like us can't keep giving up our money and living below the poverty line. The current Prime Minister, from the Socialist Party, blames the previous conservative government for the financial disaster. He says he has no choice but to impose more austerity measures and he won't back down. But teacher Theodore Stassinos says Greek workers won't back down either. More protests are planned and he's planning to come to every one of them. He knows the politicians are listening.
THEODORE STASSINOS: We want to be involved and to make everybody see out there that we are going to be against them and in front of them.
KAKISSIS: For The World, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens, Greece.