Strikes in Greece as new austerity deal proves elusive, public services disrupted

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ATHENS, Greece – A 24-hour strike by civil servants disrupted public services in Greece Wednesday as the country’s government struggled to hammer out a deal on further austerity measures with international creditors.

The strike by public sector unions hit services at tax offices, local government and elsewhere. A protest march is planned in central Athens later in the day, while civil servants have penciled in another 48-hour strike on March 19-20.

Demonstrators gathered at two squares in central Athens, including cleaning staff fired by the Finance Ministry, who marched holding up buckets and mops.

The latest disruptions have come as negotiations with rescue lenders have dragged on for months, with the government reluctant to impose more economic pain in a country already exhausted by a six-year recession.

“We believe that they will be concluded by Sunday,” government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told private Antenna television. “We are near the end of the crisis, and this is the last major consultation.”

Greece has been hammered by a vicious financial crisis since late 2009 that developed into an economic depression. The economy has shrunk by around a quarter while unemployment has soared to over 25 per cent.

Since May 2010, Greece has been dependent on billions of euros in rescue loans from the other European Union countries that use the euro, and from the International Monetary Fund. In return, successive Greek governments have had to slash spending, increase taxes and enact wide-ranging economic reforms.

There are hopes that the country’s recession will soon end but the recovery is expected to be slow.

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