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Strike tests new Greek government

Greece's new government was hit by its first general strike as thousands opposed to cuts marched through Athens. Schools and public services were shut, and hospitals left functioning on reduced staff.

The 24-hour strike is the first test of union opposition to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos' three-week-old coalition government and comes a day after it promised rescue creditors it will impose additional "deep and broad reforms."

Police said up to 15,000 members of a Communist-backed union marched peacefully through central Athens.

Shouting "No more poverty, no more burdens, time for a new society," they paraded past Parliament, followed by a separate group of some 4,500 demonstrators from the country's two biggest unions and left-wing parties. Another 6,500 people took part in two separate demonstrations in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

Greeks are weary of austerity measures - pension and pay cuts, increases in taxes and retirement ages - imposed on them in return for bailout cash from fellow eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. More cutbacks lie in store as the country heads for a fourth year of recession among record unemployment.

"Unfortunately people are in a state somewhere between poverty and despair," Ilias Iliopoulos, deputy leader of the civil servants' union ADEDY said.

Mr Papademos has written to leaders of the European Union, European Central Bank and IMF, promising to conclude a massive new bailout deal for Greece and impose tough cost-cutting measures needed to stop the country overspending.

"The government is determined to continue the process of fiscal consolidation and structural reform in order to secure sound public finances and improve the country's international competitiveness," he said.

Backed by the country's main Socialist and conservative parties, Mr Papademos now heads negotiations for the new debt deal, amid an escalating crisis in the eurozone that is threatening its largest economies and ultimately the single currency's existence.

In return for the EU-IMF lifeline, new austerity measures impose job suspensions and pay cuts in the public sector and an emergency property tax that threatens to leave households without power if they delay payment.

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