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Tanker strike to hit Greek tourism

Greek tanker drivers have vowed to continue with a strike that has halted supplies across the country and threatens to hit tourism, despite a legal order to return to work.

The truckers - now facing prosecution - rejected a compromise offer by the government to offset the financial impact of opening up their closed-shop profession.

The showdown occurred as inspectors from the International Monetary Fund were in Athens to review the progress of austerity measures promised by the Greek government so it can continue receiving international rescue loans.

"We will press on with our campaign in a forceful way," truckers' union leader Giorgos Tzortzatos said. "We are hard-working people doing whatever we can to protect what we own."

The protesters staged a peaceful march to parliament.

Sweeping labour reforms in Greece are expected to upset special interest groups for the rest of the year. This follows months of strikes and protests over other belt-tightening measures including sale tax hikes, and cuts in pensions and civil service pay in the midst of recession that has seen unemployment spike to around 12%.

On Wednesday the government issued an emergency civil mobilisation order to force the striking truckers back to work. But delays in distributing the notification papers meant that most petrol stations remained closed, as fuel tankers were lined up in protest outside oil refineries and along roads. The strike has hurt Greek industry and tourism, with fuel shortages likely to affect travel this weekend.

"This is a catastrophe. The decision was taken on the busiest day of the year, at peak season ... I don't know what's worse, what is actually happening today or the bad publicity this is giving us," said George Telonis, head of the Greek Association of Travel and Tourist Agencies. "The season so far has not gone too badly, with about a 3% drop on the year, despite all the strikes and difficulties ... because we have a very strong product. But I am very worried that damage will be done if this strike continues."

Hoteliers at resorts in northern Greece, which are normally accessed by car, have reported a steeper drop in bookings this year - more than 15%, according to their associations.

"We are helping customers find open petrol stations so that they can get home," said Grigoris Tasios, head of the Halkidiki Hotel Association, of resorts in northern Greece. "About one or two are currently supplied in a 50-kilometre radius, when normally there would be at least 10."

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