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May 26, 2017

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'They stole my money': Greek dreams of retirement turn sour

ATHENS — It was supposed to be a time to look forward to. After decades of work, retirement was for many meant to provide a chance to slow down and enjoy life. A holiday, an evening out with old friends, the odd fishing trip.

Instead, many Greek pensioners say they are struggling to get by. The government has repeatedly cuts old age benefits as part of the country's three international bailouts and many retirees now say they are at breaking point financially. Some have unemployed children they try to help on shrinking pensions, others are seeing rising taxes eat into lifetime savings.

A new austerity bill approved in parliament early Friday cuts their pensions even further, putting their plight in focus.

Greece once had a generous pension system — too generous to be sustainable, especially with an aging population. Retirement was possible from as early as the age of 55 after 30 years of work. Many had extra perks: public sector employees could retire as early as 52. Some women with young children could retire with a reduced pension at 50.

But the financial crisis left Greece reliant on international creditors, who pushed for economic change — not least to pensions. The standard retirement age is now 67. Many early retirement provisions have been abolished. Including pensions, incomes have dropped 40 percent over the last seven years of crisis.

Here is a look at the problem through the stories of four pensioners.

___

Mina Griva, 78, widow and former factory worker

Griva's husband, who worked in a steel plant in Greece, died eight years ago. Her initial widow's pension of 998 euros (US$1,110) and a 300-euro supplementary pension have been cut to 560 euros and 150 euros respectively.

"They've destroyed us," said Griva, who now helps out daily at a municipal care center for the elderly. "Pensioners are crying."

A mother of five, she uses her pension to help her son, who's been unemployed for five years. She moved out of her small Athens apartment to give it to him, and lives in a single room on the last floor of the building. Now, she avidly watches political talk shows on TV to figure out how much further her pension will drop.

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