Strike cripples Greece as workers take to the streets

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

ATHENS - Government offices shut, shops pulled down their shutters and flights were cancelled across Greece Wednesday in a 24-hour nationwide strike, piling pressure on the government as it struggles to battle its budget-deficit crisis.

The strike, called by the country’s biggest public and private sector unions, saw schools and public transport to be disrupted while hospitals and ambulance services operated with emergency staff.

Thousands of public and private sector workers, students and pensioners are expected to rally in Athens and march to parliament later in the day against the austerity measures.

Banks, pharmacies and museums remained closed and lawyers, and engineers also walked off the job.

Only emergency flights will be allowed between 1000 and 1400 GMT and ships will also remain anchored at ports across the country, paralysing the countries vital sea transport system as a show of support for those protesting against the government’s austerity measures.

Together public sector union ADEDY and private sector union GSEE represent about 2.5 million workers, half of Greece’s workforce.

Unions have held months of strikes and demonstrations since the government unveiled austerity measures to battle its budget-deficit crisis.

The reforms are part of an austerity package with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a 110-billion-euro ($140-billion) bailout package that saved Greece from bankruptcy.

The Greek government has already cut back salaries and pensions to slash a budget deficit that stood at 15.4 percent of gross domestic product in late 2009 by six percentage points by the end of 2010.

The EU/IMF approved a fresh 15-billion-euro tranche of aid earlier this month, but set new tougher targets for privatisation and called for more reforms.

During a meeting with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in Berlin Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the deadline could be extended for Greece to repay its international loans.

“This is one issue within the overall package lying on the table,” Merkel said in relation to the permanent euro stability pact being drawn up at present by the seventeen eurozone member states.

The chancellor praised the “painful” Greek reform course undertaken in the year since Papandreou last visited Berlin. At the time, Germany hesitated over agreeing to European-led bailout measures during the Greek debt crisis.

Papandreou pledged that his country would press forward with reform in sectors including education, healthcare and a greater crackdown on tax evasion.

Filed under: Politics

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