Greek unions launch 24-hour strike against austerity measures
Greece's largest unions began a 24-hour strike on Wednesday, crippling transport and public services to protest a new wave of austerity measures which the Socialist government wants to push through parliament by the end of the month, DPA reported.
Government offices and banks remained shut and ferries were anchored at ports across Greece, while the walkout also halted train services, closed schools and public services, and left hospitals operating with emergency staff only.
Greek journalists also walked off the job for 24 hours beginning at dawn on Wednesday, leading to a news blackout.
Flights, however, were operating smoothly after the air traffic controllers' union called off their participation in the strike.
The latest strike is taking place just as Greece is seeking to pass a new austerity package worth 28 billion euros (41 billion dollars) in spending cuts and tax hikes by 2015 through parliament to secure continued funding from a 110-billion-euro international bailout package.
The Socialist government will also undergo a four-year privatisation programme worth 50 billion euros.
Thousands of public and private sector workers, students and pensioners gathered from early Wednesday morning outside parliament, joining hundreds more which remained camped out in the capital's main Syntagma Square for several weeks.
Unions were expected to march through the capital at noon and protesters said they plan to block access to parliament before politicians were scheduled to begin a debate on the new economic plan later on Wednesday.
A member of parliament from Greece's ruling Socialist government resigned his cabinet seat Tuesday to protest against the new round of austerity policies, leaving the party with a slim majority ahead of a crucial vote later this month.
Former sports minister Giorgos Liannis retained his seat as an independent in the 300-member parliament, leaving the Socialist party with a thin majority of 155 seats.
Meanwhile, another Socialist deputy, Alexandros Athanassiadis, said he would oppose the new austerity plan, which several other politicians from the ruling government have publicly expressed their opposition.