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Greeks go on strike over public sector cuts

EUROPE
By BBC | July 16th 2013

Greece: Thousands of Greek workers have joined a 24-hour strike called by trade unions to protest against government plans to cut public sector jobs.

The government needs to pass the bill this week to start receiving 6.8bn euros (£5.8bn) of fresh bailout loans to keep the country afloat.

Hospital services and public transport have been affected by the strike.

Demonstrations have been building for several days over the latest set of deeply unpopular austerity measures.

Greece's international creditors demanded the cuts in order to approve the latest batch of loans from its international bailout programme, as agreed earlier this month. They said Greece's reform programme was moving too slowly.

Under the bill, which comes to a vote in parliament on Wednesday, more than 4,000 state employees, including teachers and local government workers, face dismissal this year, with another 11,000 civil servants affected in 2014.

The employees will have an eight-month period on 75% of their salaries to be redeployed, by which point, if they are not transferred to another department, they will face redundancy.

Previous austerity measures have made cuts to salaries and pensions in the public sector.

'Painful adjustment'

Greece has witnessed mounting protests over the cuts, with Tuesday's strike - the fourth this year - disrupting flights, rail travel and hospital services.

Thousands of trade union members and supporters have gathered outside parliament in Athens, with further protests taking place in Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki.

The unions say they will not give up without a fight, says the BBC's Chris Morris in the Greek capital.

But the government says it now has no choice but to enforce further painful adjustment, he adds, in a country where unemployment is at record levels and the economy has shrunk dramatically since the bailout programme began.

"We are not opposed to reform. What we do oppose is abolishing entire institutions like the municipal police and personnel to guard state schools,'' said Costas Askounis, leader of the protesting Central Union of Municipalities.

Greece has an unemployment rate of 27% and public unrest has lead to political instability, and four different Greek governments in as many years.

The country has been dependent on loans from the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, since May 2010.

Earlier on Tuesday, MPs voted in favour of prosecuting former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou over allegations that he tampered with a list of 2,000 suspected tax evaders. Mr Papaconstantinou has denied any wrongdoing.

Correspondents say tax evasion is a major problem in Greece and one of the main reasons for its financial crisis.

-BBC

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