Greek strike disrupts flights, cripples services

The strike halted transports across Greece & 100 flights were cancelled.

Last Updated: Feb 24, 2011, 00:10 AM IST

Athens: A general strike halted public
transportation across Greece on Wednesday and led to the cancellation
of more than 100 flights at Athens International Airport, as
unions stepped up opposition to the country`s austerity
measures.

State hospital doctors, ambulance drivers, pharmacists,
lawyers and tax collectors also joined school teachers,
journalists and thousands of small businesses in the 24-hour
strike as more middle-class groups took part in the protest
than have in the past. Athens` main shopping district was
mostly empty, as many small business owners shuttered their
stores.

This year`s first major labor protest in Greece began as
Prime Minister George Papandreou`s Socialist government faces
international pressure to make more lasting cuts after the
nation`s debt-crippled economy was rescued from bankruptcy by
the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Riot police took up positions around the city today ahead
of two midday rallies to Parliament amid fears the mass
protests could turn violent.

The government urged protest organisers to prevent
potentially violent groups from blending in with peaceful
protesters a common problem for Greek police at large rallies.
"Those who organise rallies must also police them.
Everyone has the right to express their views in protest but
it must be peaceful ... It will be a crucial day," Public
Order Minister Christos Papoutsis said.

The strike halted trains, ferries and most public
transport across the country, and idled many airlines at the
international airport.

"For us workers, even though the legislation (for
austerity measures) has passed, they are not a part of our
lives. We have not accepted them," striking postal worker
Dimitris Katsantonis said while standing outside a closed
central Athens post office.

Unions are angry at ongoing austerity measures put in
place by the Socialist government in exchange for a USD 150
billion bailout loan package from European countries and the
IMF.

Stathis Anestis, deputy leader of Greece`s largest union,
the GSEE, said workers should not be asked to make more
sacrifices during a third straight year of recession.

"The measures forced on us by the agreement with our
lenders are harsh and unfair. ... We are facing long-term
austerity with high unemployment and destabilising our social
structure," Anestis told The Associated Press. "What is
increasing is the level of anger and desperation ... If these
harsh policies continue, so will we."

PTI

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