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Greece hit by fresh anti-austerity strike

AFP

Greece was left paralysed by a nationwide strike on Wednesday organised by leading unions in protest against continued austerity in the crisis-hit country ahead of an audit by international creditors.

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Greece was hit by a fresh strike on Wednesday called by leading unions against unrelenting austerity in the recession-weary nation ahead of an audit by international creditors, disrupting flights, ferries and hospital services.

The radical leftist party Syriza, which heads the opposition, wants to use the strike as a springboard to topple the brittle coalition government of conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.

The strike -- the first general work stoppage in debt-crippled Greece this year -- has forced airport authorities to scrap or reschedule dozens of flights while hospitals were operating on reduced staffing.

Ships will remain docked throughout the day, disrupting ferry services to the islands. And although most public transport will be operating, buses and train services will suffer problems because of planned work stoppages during the day.

Doctors, lawyers and teachers were among several professions joining the action organised by private sector union GSEE and public sector union ADEDY.

"We are fighting for collective bargaining agreements, for measures to be finally taken against unemployment and to ensure our democratic and working rights," GSEE said in a statement.

Separate union-led protests will be held in Athens later in the day.

"The general strike aims to bring down the government and annul (the austerity) agreement and measures," Syriza said in leaflets handed out this week.

"The relentless policy of the Samaras government must be met with a popular uprising. The general strike must be the start of this uprising," it said.

Greece's three-party government insists there is no alternative to the harsh austerity programme demanded by the country's creditors in return for vital loans to stave of bankruptcy.

Successive cuts to salaries and pensions over the past three years have angered Greeks who have frequently taken to the streets to demonstrate their frustration.

The government has pledged to remedy some of the cuts when the economy limps back into growth next year -- a prospect that had been originally forecast for this year.

Facing a sixth year of continuous recession, the heavily-indebted country has been relying on international rescue packages to avoid bankruptcy and get its economy back on track.

Since 2010, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund have committed 240 billion euros ($320 billion) overall in rescue loans to Greece.

Auditors representing Greece's EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund creditors are expected in Athens next week to assess the progress of its programme.

Their report will determine whether Athens will receive a scheduled slice of 2.8 billion euros from its international creditors due in February.

Among its obligations to its creditors, Greece must eliminate 25,000 civil service jobs this year, a measure set to cause further union trouble.

The government has seen its parliamentary majority erode after adopting in November a new 18.5-billion-euro round of spending cuts and other reforms by 2016.

The coalition now has 163 deputies in the 300-seat chamber.

(AFP)

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