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Greek strikes paralyze basic infrastructure

Greek labor unions have begun two-day strikes to protest a new raft of austerity measures that parliament will debate this weekend. Athens must impose more belt-tightening if it wants to unlock further bailout money.

Athens' metro, tram, bus and rail workers all walked off the job on Friday to protest a planned overhaul of Greece's pension system coupled with a rise in taxes. They were joined by teachers, trash collectors and journalists. Even ferry operators kept their boats anchored at port.

The strikes were called by Greece's largest public and private sector unions. They were in response to planned cost-cutting measures by the heavily indebted country's government, which was

elected on an anti-austerity ticket

before bowing to international creditors' demands.

Those measures include introducing a new national pension plan, raising social security contributions and increasing income tax for high earners. The Greek parliament is due to vote on most elements of the reform package - which must total 3 percent of Greece's gross domestic product (GDP) to meet creditors' demands - late Sunday.

The 'last nail in the coffin'

The country's largest private sector labor union, GSEE, said the reforms amounted to the "last nail in the coffin" for workers and pensioners, saying they had suffered enough after six years of tough austerity.

The parliamentary vote will come ahead of a

special meeting of eurozone finance ministers

in Brussels, where they will review Greece's progress in instituting reforms, which is a condition of the country's latest bailout, its third in five years.

Watch video 02:27

ESMT's Jörg Rocholl on Greek bailout study

A recent study published in Berlin won't do anything to placate angry Greeks: It found that most of the money paid to Greece under its first two bailouts was used for debt repayments, interest payments, bank recapitalization and debt restructuring. That is to say,

most of the money wound up in the hands of banks.

Less than 10 billion euros ($11.5 billion) actually made its way into the coffers of the Greek treasury.

cjc/uhe (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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