Wednesday, February 20 11:17:51
Greek workers held a nationwide strike against wage cuts and high taxes today, keeping ferries stuck in ports, schools shut and hospitals with only emergency staff.
The two biggest labour unions brought much of crisis-hit Greece to a standstill during the 24-hour protest against austerity policies which they say deepen the hardship of people struggling through the country's worst peacetime downturn.
Representing 2.5 million workers, the unions have gone on strike repeatedly since a debt crisis erupted in late 2009, testing the government's will to impose the painful conditions of an international bailout in the face of growing public anger.
"Today's strike is a new effort to get rid of the bailout deal and those who take advantage of the people and bring only misery," said Ilias Iliopoulos, secretary general of the ADEDY public sector union which is organising the walkout with private sector union GSEE.
"A social explosion is very near," he told Reuters from a rally in a central Athens square, as police helicopters clattered overhead.
Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's eight-month-old coalition government has been eager to show it will implement reforms it promised the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which have bailed Athens out twice with over 200 billion euros.
It has taken a tough line on striking workers, invoking emergency laws twice this year to order seamen and subway workers back to their jobs after week-long walkouts that paralysed public transport in Athens and led to food shortages on islands.
But in a sign it may be buckling under pressure, it announced on Monday it would not fire almost 1,900 civil servants earmarked for possible dismissal, despite promising foreign lenders it would seek to cut the public payroll. (C ) Reuters