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Europe

Strikes shut down Athens public transportation ahead of austerity vote

Athens is once again facing serious travel and business disruptions this week as public and private sector unions strike to protest new government austerity. The budget cuts were prescribed by the EU and IMF.

Traffic jam in Athens

Public transit strikes forced many in Athens into their cars

The streets of Athens were jammed with cars on Tuesday as public transit workers staged a 24-hour strike to protest an upcoming vote on further budget cuts in parliament.

The strikes were just a prelude to further strikes on Wednesday by workers in air travel, ferries, schools and hospitals. Bank workers, taxi drivers and journalists also planned strikes at different times in the week.

"We'll continue, they can't stop us," bus workers' union head Nikos Kouloumparitsis told Reuters news agency. "This is now a matter of survival, they are cutting our salaries again."

The strikes are to coincide with a vote by parliament to cap monthly salaries at state-owned enterprises at 4,000 euros, and to reduce salaries over 1,800 euros per month by 10 percent. Top management was excluded from the legislation.

Falling revenues

Strikers demonstrate at parliament

Strikers gathered outside parliament to protest the wage cuts

The government of Prime Minister George Papandreou announced the law last week as an emergency measure after weaker-than-expected tax revenues caused it to miss its 2010 fiscal targets.

Papandreau's government has been under intense pressure to reduce its budget deficit by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which provided a 110 billion-euro rescue package in May.

The resulting series of austerity measures has enraged the country's unions and public sector workers, and has put opposition parties to the left and to the right of Papandreou's Socialists on the offensive.

"We will not give our consent to a policy that leads to unjust, futile and hopeless sacrifices," said Antonis Samaras, leader of the conservative New Democracy party. "I'm not giving my consent to this policy, because then I would be an accomplice."

Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Michael Lawton

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