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Greek public sector strike grounds flights

Workers in Greece's public sector have gone on a 24-hour strike to protest pension cuts and tax increases. The walkout has shut down Athens' international airport and left hospitals with minimal staff.

Schools closed, news broadcasts were off the air, and state-run hospitals ran on emergency staff when Greek public sector workers walked off the job as part of

a 24-hour strike on Thursday.

Air traffic controllers also joined the strike, shutting down Athens' international airport and forcing numerous airlines to cancel flights.

Engineers, lawyers, and journalists also took part in the walkout called by public sector union ADEDY, which represents around 500,000 workers and pensioners.

"Workers have lost almost half of their income since the crisis started. They cannot bear any more of this burden. With labor action, we can at least put pressure on them [the government]," said Odysseas Drivalas, member of ADEDY's executive board.

The strike coincides with an international review of Greece's compliance with the terms of the so-called "bailout" reached last year. The terms included social security reforms which have hiked taxes, cut or frozen public sector wages and pensions, and

led to widespread opposition.

Greeks have also seen their incomes and services slashed under the austerity measures, in a country with

an unemployment rate close to 25 percent.

"Our strike is just a warm-up, we will stage a 48-hour strike when the government submits the bill (to parliament) with the measures," Drivalas added.

Stalled review

The review of the Greece's economic reforms has been delayed for weeks due to

disagreements between the International Monetary Fund and European Union institutions.

They have been unable to agree on the level of adjustments Athens should make to cover shortfalls as well as the form that future debt relief should take.

Government officials said they hope a draft agreement will be in place by Sunday April 10.

Port workers are expected to strike on Friday to protest the sale of Piraeus Port - the country's largest - to a Chinese shipping firm.

rs/msh (AP, Reuters)

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