Greece faces shutdown amid massive strikes

Public transport and media workers on strike as national parliament prepares to vote on tough new austerity measures.

    Public transport and media workers have opened a week of strikes in Greece, contesting fresh austerity measures needed for a lifeline from creditors which the government is due to introduce to parliament.

    The Athens metro was shut, and only one tram line was running on Monday, while Athens' 14.000 taxi drivers halted services, severely disrupting traffic in the capital.

    The country was also hit by a media blackout as print, broadcast and electronic media journalists staged a 24-hour strike. Service at hospitals was slow as only some employees turned up to work.

    The union of the public electricity company DEI meanwhile announced renewable 48-hour strikes from Monday evening, although it did not say whether this would lead to power cuts.

    The walkout is expected to intensify throughout the country on Tuesday and Wednesday as public union GSEE and private union Adedy have both called general strikes.

    Bus workers joined the stoppage on Tuesday, completing the public transport shutdown in Athens, while ferry lines to surrounding islands will be cut for 48 hours.

    A three-hour work stoppage on Tuesday has also been announced by air traffic controllers.

    In addition, unions have planned demonstrations from Tuesday in the centre of Athens against the package of $23bn (18 billion euros) in cuts and other reforms to be put to a vote in parliament on Wednesday.

    The Greek daily Ta Nea noted that the "parliamentarians are faced with an unpleasant job".

    The new savings plan includes salary and retirement cuts, reductions in civil servant staffing and further labour market deregulation.

    Euro-exit warning

    Implementing the austerity plan is a precondition for Greece to qualify for a 31.5bn euro tranche of bailout funds from the European Union, International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

    Without it, Greece risks bankruptcy in mid-November.

    On Sunday, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras stressed the importance of approving the package, saying that the country could be forced out of the eurozone if parliament were to veto the measures.

    "We must save the country from catastrophe ... If we fail to save the euro nothing will make sense," he said.

    The Dimar party, which has 16 deputies, has suggested it would vote against the bill because of its objections to the proposed new labour market deregulation measures, while up to five socialist lawmakers could also defy Samaras.

    The dissenters would leave the government with a narrow majority, with just 154 to 159 seats in the 300-member assembly, the Greek press said on Sunday, while predicting that the measures would nevertheless go through.

    In an interview with Ethnos newspaper, Dimar party leader Fotis Kouvelis restated his opposition to the proposed labour reforms, accusing Samaras and the international creditors of trying to distance the party and bypassing it.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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