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Greek seamen extend austerity strike to four days

Greek seamen and journalists have walked off the job a day before a nationwide general strike to protest against new austerity measures the government is proposing in return for more bailout funds.

The seamen's union announced on Tuesday afternoon that they were extending their strike - originally planned to last 48 hours - for a further two days, leaving ferries servicing Greece's islands tied up in port until midnight on Friday.

The Panhellenic Seamen's Federation said it was asking "for the understanding and full support of both the travelling public and all Greek workers", adding that the new measures would lead seamen "to poverty and destitution".

Journalists launched a 24-hour strike, pulling news broadcasts off the air. News websites were not being updated, and no Wednesday newspapers will be printed.

Public bus company employees were also holding work stoppages during the day.

Wednesday's general strike is expected to affect services across the country, from schools and hospitals to public transport.

Air traffic controllers have announced a four-hour work stoppage, leading to the rescheduling of 99 flights and the cancellation of a further nine by Greece's Aegean and Olympic Air.

Another airline, Sky Express, announced the rescheduling of 41 domestic flights between Athens and the Greek islands.

Protest marches have been scheduled for central Athens in the morning.

Workers are protesting over a new deal with Greece's international creditors that imposes a raft of new tax hikes and spending cuts beyond the end of the country's third bailout in 2018.

The measures will include additional pension cuts in 2019 and higher income tax in 2020.

Without the agreement with its creditors, Greece faced the prospect of running out of cash to service its debts this summer, which could have seen it have another brush with bankruptcy.

Greece is in its third international bailout, which is due to end in mid-2018. It has been dependent on rescue loans from its creditors - mainly other European countries that use the euro, and the International Monetary Fund - since its first bailout in 2010.

In return for the funds, successive governments have had to impose repeated waves of reforms, which have included tax hikes and salary and pension cuts.

While the country's finances have improved under the bailouts and the strict supervision imposed, the belt-tightening has led to spiralling poverty and unemployment.

Although the jobless rate has been falling from a high of above 27%, it is still about 23%.

AP

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