Greek public sector workers strike

Air traffic controllers stop flights

Public sector workers in Greece clashed with police
during a nationwide one-day strike in protest at the austerity measures being
implemented to try to address the country’s financial crisis.

Riot police fired tear gas at
protesters in Athens, according to local reports, after garbage collectors
tried to team up with other strikers by driving their trucks through a police
cordon. Hundreds more people gathered at Syntagma Square in the centre of the
capital, some waving banners or beating drums, to voice their opposition to the
spending cuts.

“It’s a war against workers
and we will answer with war, with constant struggles until this policy is
overturned,” Christos Katsiotis, a representative of a communist-party affiliated
union, told the Associated Press.

The Prime Minister, George
Papandreou, who is in Paris to discuss the economic crisis with French
president Nicolas Sarkozy, has already faced down a protest by farmers demanding
higher subsidy payments who staged tractor blockades on Greek highways for
nearly three weeks.

It emerged Tuesday night that
Greece’s European partners may be close to agreeing a bailout, with German
officials saying a deal had been agreed “in principle”. An EU summit
in Brussels Thursday will address the Greek crisis in the hope of containing
the growing threat to the eurozone.

Non-urgent hospital appointments
have been cancelled, and schools across Greece will remain closed. Air traffic
control staff is also taking part in the dispute, meaning flights in and out of
the country will be heavily disrupted. Greece’s largest airline, Aegean
Airways, has suspended all its services, while British Airways has cancelled
three scheduled flights from Heathrow to Athens.

Union leaders called the action in
protest at Papandreou’s plans for spending restraint including cuts in public
sector pay and bonuses, and a freeze on hiring new employees.

Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary
of the public sector union ADEDY, accused Papandreou of targeting the wrong
people in his efforts to fight the debt crisis that threatens Greece’s
financial stability and raises the spectre of contagion across the eurozone.

“They had promised the rich
would pay but instead they take the money from the poor,” Iliopoulos said.
ADEDY also accused the Greek government of planning “permanent
austerity” and “the bankruptcy of employees and pensioners”.

Papandreou, though, had urged civil
servants not to strike at a time when European leaders are considering a
bailout for Greece.

“Our primary duty is to save
the economy and to reduce debt while seeking just solutions that protect as
much as possible those on lower incomes and the middle class,” he said.

Wednesday’s strike was planned
before the Greek government announced its latest cutback measure Tuesday –
raising the average retirement age from 61 to 63.

Stock markets across Europe rose this morning, buoyed
by hopes that a rescue package for Greece will be agreed when European leaders
meet tomorrow
.

Further strikes are planned for
later this month.

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