Greece hit by 24-hour general strike against budget cuts

AFP , Tuesday 7 Feb 2012

Stepping up fight against EU/IMF-imposed 'austerity' measures, Greek labour unions and leftist parties stage general strike as thousands converge on Athens' Syntagma Square

A man on a bicycle passes docked ferries in the port of Piraeus, near Athens, during a 24 hour strike on Tuesday, (Photo: AP).

Greece was gripped by a 24-hour general strike on Tuesday called by the country's biggest unions to fight a new wave of austerity measures being negotiated with the EU and IMF.

"No to public sector layoffs!" and "No to cutting the minimum wage!" protest banners read as thousands braved short spells of rain in Syntagma Square in Athens.

The square has become a symbol of Greek anger against austerity measures imposed by the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

There were only skeleton services operating in schools, ministries, hospitals and banks, while commuters using buses and metros faced major delays in Athens. Air travel was expected to remain unaffected however.

"Unemployment, poverty, impoverishment of the country: the fault of agreements with the EU, IMF and ECB," another banner read.

The European Central Bank is also part of the so-called troika of creditors dealing with Athens.

The strike was called by Greece's biggest unions, including the private sector GSEE and the civil servants' union, Adedy.

About 5,000 people late Monday braved a torrential thunderstorm and strong winds to take part in protests in Athens called by the unions and left-wing parties against the austerity measures.

Later on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was to meet the heads of the socialist, conservative and far-right parties that form his unwieldy coalition and reach agreement on budget cuts demanded by Greece's creditors.

Yiannis Panagopoulos, leader of the GSEE union, has described the measures as a "death sentence" for the country, aimed at slashing salaries by 20 to 30 per cent on top of previously imposed cuts.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos blamed the parties for the failure to reach consensus on debt negotiations with Greece's EU-IMF creditors.

"Instead of looking at this tragic dilemma... with national unity... there are many who spend their effort on a conventional, outdated, party confrontation as if nothing has happened," Venizelos said.

Papademos, being pulled one way by his EU partners and the other by domestic sentiment, met officials from the EU, European Central Bank (ECB) and IMF again on Monday evening.

Those talks were aimed at wrapping up weeks of negotiations and saving his country from a historic default in March.

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