Greek public sector strike begins
Greek civil servants have walked off the job at the start of a two-day nationwide strike protesting against planned job cuts required as part of the country's international bailout.
The strike is shutting down all public services across Greece. Schools and courts will be closed, while hospitals will be functioning with reduced staff. Trains will stop running for four hours, and journalists will join a three-hour work stoppage, pulling news broadcasts off the air.
Government plans call for the suspension of 25,000 civil servants this year as part of efforts to reduce the size of the public sector and meet conditions to continue receiving rescue loans.
The country has been depending on bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries since May 2010.
The walkouts are the first widespread strike action since the summer and aim to put pressure on the coalition government to repeal the unpopular austerity measures. Officials have vowed not to back down.
Many of the suspended workers are expected to eventually lose their jobs.
The austerity measures have included deep cuts to state salaries and pensions and repeated rounds of tax hikes, measures which many blame for prolonging a deep recession that is in its sixth year. Unemployment is above 27%, the highest in the European Union, while it reaches nearly 60% for those under 25.
Debt inspectors from the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, jointly known as the "troika", are due back in Athens to review progress on reforms next week.
The country's main private sector union was joining the strike with a four-hour work stoppage in the middle of the day, while two demonstrations were planned for central Athens: one by a Communist Party-backed union in the morning and the other by the main civil servants' union at around midday.
The two-day strike comes during a week of strikes in various sectors. High school teachers have embarked on rolling five-day strikes, while state hospital doctors have walked off the job for three days.