Greece: clashes erupt as foreclosed property auctions resume
ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek police used tear gas on Wednesday to hold back dozens of protesters trying to disrupt foreclosed property auctions that resumed after a hiatus of several months.
Protesters pelted police with trash cans, fire extinguishers and anything else within reach at the Athens courthouse where the auctions were taking place.
Police said one policeman and one protester suffered minor injuries in the clashes.
In the northern city of Thessaloniki, police prevented dozens of protesters from forcing their way into a notary public’s office and the offices of the association of notaries public. No injuries or arrests were reported.
The auctions are a key component of Greece’s bailout talks with creditors. They are seen as essential for banks to get a grip on the huge number of bad loans on their books, estimated at 45 percent of all loans. Online auctions were due to start for the first time Wednesday.
The government has promised that primary residences worth up to 300,000 euros ($355,000) won’t be auctioned off.
But it has also dispatched police so that auctions can proceed, unlike previous times when protesters succeeded in halting proceedings.
Notaries public have for months abstained from taking part in auctions because of attacks by left-wing protesters who say they want to protect the hard-earned property of Greek citizens squeezed by years of economic hardship.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said homeowners have until the end of 2018 to apply for legal protection in order to settle outstanding loans and “indefinitely protect” primary residences.
“I think there’s a sufficient framework protecting primary residences and it’s exactly according to this framework that we pledge to continue our efforts,” Tzanakopoulos told reporters.
The banks’ bad loans and foreclosures are only part of Greece’s financial challenges. The state owes a massive 335 billion euros ($396 billion), most of it to bailout lenders, while annual economic output has shrunk steeply after years of harsh austerity and recession.