French president visits Athens as Greek journalists pull coverage as part of strike

ATHENS, Greece – French President Francois Hollande arrived in Athens on Tuesday to discuss Greece’s deep financial crisis, but a journalists’ strike left the event without coverage in Greek media, infuriating the government.

The journalists’ 24-hour walkout, staged to protest austerity measures and income cuts, pulled all news broadcasts off the air and left news websites without updates. Newspapers will not publish Wednesday editions.

The move angered the government, which accused the main opposition Syriza party of deliberately instigating the strike to “cause a news blackout of the visit of French President Francois Hollande.”

State television carried live images of Hollande arriving at the airport and being greeted by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Cabinet members, but provided no commentary. During Hollande’s talks with Samaras, state TV was broadcasting repeated raw footage of the French president’s arrival at the airport.

Journalists’ unions have been protesting firings and pension and benefit cuts among other issues. Hundreds of journalists in the private sector frequently go unpaid for months at a time.

The strike comes a day ahead of a 24-hour nationwide anti-austerity general strike which will see all services disrupted across the country.

Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou showed clear annoyance at the timing of the media walkout.

“The journalists’ union leadership succumbed to the usual party aims and Syriza’s plan to cause a media blackout during the visit of French President Francois Hollande,” he said in a statement, adding that the opposition party “does not hesitate to damage the country’s international image.”

During his visit, Hollande is to hold talks with Samaras and meet with Greek and French businessmen.

Greece has been gripped by a severe financial crisis that has left it since early 2010 dependent on billions of euros in rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries that use the euro. In return, it has enforced a series of deep spending cuts and repeated tax hikes in an effort to lower debt and reform its moribund economy.

France has been generally far more lenient in its attitude towards Greece and the southern European country’s financial crisis than the other major eurozone power, Germany, which has advocated strict austerity measures. Germany is the single largest contributor to Greece’s bailout packages.

After nearly three years of austerity, Greece finds itself stuck in a deep recession, with thousands of businesses shutting down and unemployment spiraling to 27 per cent. Among young people, the jobless rate has reached nearly 62 per cent.