SEVENTEEN protesters were arrested and several police and protesters were injured yesterday as thousands of public sector workers in the north clashed with riot police outside the Turkish Cypriot ‘parliament’.
The demonstrators were demanding that an economic austerity package that would cut public sector workers’ salaries be scrapped, saying it would lead to the mass emigration of Turkish Cypriots from the island.
Thirty unions led by the Turkish Cypriot Teachers Union (KTOS) staged yesterday’s demonstration. The unions claim austerity measures the authorities want to introduce will force ‘state’ employees to leave their jobs on the island in search of work abroad. They have dubbed the economic package the ‘emigration package’. In response the authorities say the measures are needed to offset the effects of the global economic downturn and bring public sector salaries closer in line with those in the private sector.
At the demonstration, timed to coincide with the ‘government’s’ attempt to pass the bill in ‘parliament’ yesterday, demonstrators attempted to storm ‘parliament’, resulting in violent scuffles with riot police. Security measures around ‘parliament’ had been stepped up in preparation for what was expected to be a tense day. Tear gas was also used to hold back the crowds. Yesterday afternoon the demonstration had moved to the police station where the 17 arrested were being held.
The austerity package has won the support of the north Chamber of Trade, which has long argued that the private sector is in greater need of financial support and conditions in which it would develop. It has long been the case in the north that the only job seen as secure is a ‘state’ one.
Currently the authorities in the north pay the monthly salaries of around 30,000 workers, and roughly the same number of payments to retired ‘state’ personnel. While the authorities argue that they can no longer foot the bill, the unions argue that without the monthly ‘state’ injection of cash the private sector of the economy would collapse.
In ‘parliament’ yesterday ratification of the controversial bill was delayed as disturbances took place outside the building. Arguments also raged inside the chamber between ruling and opposition deputies.