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Austerity strikes

September 22, 2011

Greeks have responded with outrage to the latest round of budget cuts meant to keep the debt-ridden country in the eurozone. A public transport strike has brought the country to a standstill.

A public sector trade union member shouts slogans outside the Greek finance ministry
Greece is under pressure from international creditors to slash state payroll costsImage: dapd

Greeks on Thursday reacted with anger to a new round on austerity measures meant to keep the country in the eurozone, as a 24-hour public transport strike brought Athens and the rest of the country to a standstill.

Buses, trams, trolleys and the national rail network were still as municipal workers walked off the job. They were joined by taxi drivers, who staged a strike of their own to protest the opening of their profession to competition.

Hundreds of tourists were stranded at the Athens International Airport, and those with incoming flights will likely spend the day waiting, as air traffic controllers are scheduled to begin a three-hour walkout shortly after noon local time, as well as a 24-hour strike on Saturday.

Shock and anger

The deeply unpopular cuts, announced Wednesday, were met with outrage across the country.

The government plans to cut monthly pensions by 20 percent above a 1,200-euro ($1,636) threshold, while retirees under the age of 55 will lose 40 percent of their pensions above 1,000 euros. The plans also called for a temporary layoff of 30,000 public sector workers, until an independent commission decides whch posts will definitely be cut.

In addition, the threshold on income-tax free allowances is to be lowered from 8,000 euros to 5,000 euros. Wages will also be cut in the public sector.

Greek Minister of Finance Evangelos Venizelos
Venizelos vowed to enact fresh austerity measures to secure a much-needed bailout next monthImage: dapd

"A merciless raid," said the conservative Eleftheros Typos newspaper. Salaried staff, pensioners and civil servants had been placed on a "sacrificial altar," said the pro-government Ta Nea publication.

"We will fight to the end, to topple this policy," Ilias Iliopoulos, the general secretary of public sector union ADEDY, told Reuters.

Greece's Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos insisted earlier Wednesday that his country had no plans to abandon the euro and would do everything in his power to stay in the eurozone.

Only the beginning?

The European Union and the International Monetary Fund have urged Athens to speed up its reform drive before they release the next disbursement of bailout funds.

The first bailout, handed out last year, totaled 110 billion euros ($150 billion). A second bailout of 159 billion euros, agreed on July 21, has been held up by disagreements within the EU.

Greece needs the next bailout installment to avert default next month.

Meanwhile, more strikes are planned in the coming weeks. Finance Ministry staff have called a 48-hour strike for September 27 and 28 to protest wage cuts. They will be joined by tax collectors and customs officials.

The two main unions - the civil servants' union ADEDY and the General Confederation of Greek Labor - have also called two 24-hour nationwide strikes for October 5 and 19 to protest the government's spending cuts.

Author: Sarah Harman, (AFP, Reuters, dpa,AP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler