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Thousands take to the streets in new anti-austerity general strike

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-20

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Athens and second city Thessaloniki on Thursday in a new general strike against the government's debt-dictated austerity spending cuts and pension reform.

AFP - More than 20,000 Greeks took to the streets of Athens and second city Thessaloniki on Thursday in a new general strike against the government's debt-dictated austerity spending cuts and pension reform.

About 17,000 people demonstrated in Athens and around 5,000 more marched in Thessaloniki according to police estimates, calling on the Socialist government to take back a controversial pension reform and pay cuts.

The demonstrations called by Greece's main unions and the communist workers' syndicate shut down the centre of the capital for the second time this month in a movement against tough fiscal measures imposed to clinch a vital EU-IMF loan.

More than 1,700 extra police were ordered into central Athens as authorities sought to avoid a repeat of troubles that have erupted during the last strikes, including a May 5 petrol bomb attack on a bank that killed three employees.

Police on Thursday preventively detained some two dozen youths on the sidelines of the Athens protest, which brought all public transport to a halt.

"We are here to send a strong message to the government, the Brussels directorate, the IMF and all those pencil-pushers who are targeting the social, labour, pension and economic rights of employees," Stathis Anestis, a leading member of the General Confederation of Workers (GSEE), said in a speech to protesters.

"We will not tolerate submission and a return to conditions of subjugation and slavery," Anestis said in an apparent reference to Greece's nearly 400-year rule by the Ottoman Empire until the early 19th century.

The strike is the fourth called by unions since February and the second this month against wage and pension cuts and higher indirect taxes ordered by the government.

Business lobby groups have appealed to labour organisations to hold back on workforce disruptions to let the recession-hit economy get back on its feet.

The Athens stock exchange lost 3.23 percent of its value in afternoon trade and the general index dropped to 1,583.58 points.

Prime Minister George Papandreou, who was in Beirut, appealed to Arab nations to invest in his cash-strapped country, touting it as "investment friendly" with a dynamic business environment.

"Greece is changing rapidly and... we invite you all to join us, whether it is visiting Greece, whether it is investing in Greece, or whether it is working with Greece on common projects in the region for a better future for all of our countries," Papandreou said at the opening of a two-day Arab Economic Forum.

The Athens subway, bus and trolleybus system all came to a halt Thursday, producing giant traffic jams in the city. In the main port of Piraeus, ferries and other boats were all tied up in the harbour.

International flights were not affected as air traffic controllers decided not to strike, so as not to worsen the impact on the key tourism industry.

But Olympic Air cancelled at least 15 internal flights because civil aviation workers joined the stoppage at smaller local airports.

And three cruise ships carrying a combined 7,280 passengers were shut out of Piraeus and forced to use other harbours because of the strike, the semi-state Athens News Agency reported.

Some schools were open and the education ministry maintained national examinations for high school students. Some private banks in Athens opened as well despite a call by the main bank workers' union, OTOE, to join the strike.

The main labour federations, the GSEE with one million members, and ADEDY which numbers 370,000, called the strike against the shock measures ordered by the government which needed a 110 billion euro rescue from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to avoid a debt default.

The minimum retirement age is to be increased and pensions reduced under the proposals which need a final vote in parliament later this month.

Date created : 2010-05-20


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