Athens: Greek police used tear gas on Thursday to disperse protesting fuel-truck drivers, whose strike is hurting tourism and industry, after the government issued an emergency order to force them back to work.
The scuffles occurred as some 500 drivers gathered in protest outside the Transport Ministry, but the incident ended quickly.
Most gas stations around the country remained closed after a crippling three-day strike that has hit Greece`s tourism industry and led to some factory closures and fresh food shortages in parts of the country.
Fuel-truck drivers oppose plans to liberalise their tightly regulated profession — part of major reforms required for Greece to receive rescue loans from European countries and the International Monetary Fund.
The reforms will mean the drivers will no longer be able to sell their business licenses privately, sometimes for as much as EUR 150,000 (USD 195,000), devaluing the initial investment they`d made.
Facing prosecution unless they return to work, the drivers say they will not directly defy the emergency civil mobilisation order, but will continue their protest with various forms of disobedience.
"We came here to talk to the (transport) minister and look how they are treating us. We are hard working people and we want a solution to our problems," striking union leader Giorgos Tzortzatos said.
IMF and European auditors are in Athens to inspect the progress of the belt-tightening reforms that have already seen pensions and civil servants` salaries slashed and the welfare system tightened.
The inspection is required before Greece receives in mid-September the second instalment of loans from the rescue fund worth up to EUR 110 billion (USD 142 billion) from the IMF and the 15 other EU countries using the euro.