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Greece shut down as unions stage general strike
2010-02-24 08:02:19

Protesters clash with riot police during a demonstration in Athens

The Nation Press -

Greece ground to a halt on Wednesday as unions staged a one-day general strike and thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest austerity measures designed to tame a public debt crisis.

Schools, government offices and courthouses were all closed while there was also major disruption to public transport, banks, hospitals and state-owned companies.

The main Greek archaeological sites and museums, including the Acropolis in Athens, shut their doors as well.

Many of the employees who stayed away from work joined the demonstrations against the Socialist government which is trying to raise revenue through new taxes, and to save money through public sector benefit cuts and hiring freezes.

Police said around 10,000 demonstrators gathered in Athens for a protest called by the country's two biggest unions while several thousand Communist supporters took part in a separate protest. A further 7,000 staged a protest in the second city of Thessaloniki, the police said.

Some protesters carried signs calling on the authorities to "tax the rich" instead and noted that the strike was also targeting "speculators" after a run against Greek bonds that has sharply pushed up the country's borrowing costs.

Others marched with banners criticising the "plutocracy".

"Our people and their needs are above markets and profits," the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE), which represents around a million members, said in its demonstration call.

The ADEDY civil servants union, whose 300,000 members are seen as the main target of the cost-cutting drive, were at the vanguard of the strike action which was also backed by the national journalists' union.

Athens' metro and bus lines did run a skeleton service to allow strikers to get to the street demonstrations.

The general strike is the first to hit the Socialists after their election in October on an economy salvation ticket.

It adds to the pressure on the government amid talks with the European Union and European Central Bank (ECB) on its plan to slash four points off its budget deficit, currently more than four times over the allowed EU limit at 12.7 percent of output.

But faced with debts of around around 300 billion euros (407 billion dollars) and a deepening recession, there are doubts in Brussels that the cornered Socialists will meet their targets.

Ratings agency Fitch on Tuesday voiced its scepticism with a credit downgrade on Greece's top banks, arguing the austerity measures "will have a significant effect on the real economy, affecting loan demand and putting additional pressure on asset quality."

It was the last thing Athens needed in the week that delegations from the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF visited to assess its crisis plan.

The international teams arrived on Tuesday and were expected to stay until Thursday for talks with senior government officials.

Greece's high debt and a collapse in confidence on financial markets over its ability to finance itself have put government bonds under pressure, weakened the euro and pushed the eurozone into crisis.

But Athens says it is not solely responsible for the turmoil, arguing that Brussels should have spotted the warning signals.

"The European Commission had the duty to know, to carry out checks, and I am very sure that they knew the statistics," government spokesman George Petalotis told Kanali 1 radio.

In Brussels, a European Commission spokesman rejected the charge.

"Since 2005, we have expressed our concerns on five occasions" on the public deficit data provided by the Greek authorities, commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said.

"To say there was a lack of vigilance on our part does not correspond with reality."

Despite the likely scale of Wednesday's strike, polls suggest that more than six out of 10 Greeks support the government's austerity plans.

Source : Thenation press servecis
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