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Greek workers start 24-hour strike

Greece's state sector closed down as civil servants staged a 24-hour strike - demanding that the government changes stringent austerity measures designed to pull the country out of a debt crisis.

Tax offices, schools and universities were closed, while state-run hospitals were functioning on emergency staff as doctors walked off the job for the day.

All planes flying to and from Greece were expected to be grounded for four hours as air traffic controllers joined in the protests with a work stoppage from 3pm-7pm (1200GMT-1600GMT).

Greece narrowly avoided defaulting on its debts in May after the International Monetary Fund and other European Union countries using the euro granted it rescue loans under a three-year €110 billion package. In return, the government imposed austerity measures that included trimming pensions, cutting civil servants' salaries and increasing taxes.

Unions and many businesses have complained that the measures are stifling the economy, leading to job losses and the closure of hundreds of small businesses.

"Every day that goes by, it becomes clear that this policy by the government, the IMF and the EU, which leads workers and society to poverty, is also a dead end for the economy," the main civil servants' union, ADEDY, said in their call for a strike.

The government predicts in its 2011 draft budget that unemployment will jump from this year's projected 11.6 per cent to 14.5 per cent in 2011 and 15 per cent the following year.

Labour unions have carried out a series of strikes and demonstrations since the start of the year against the austerity plan.

But the government insists it has no choice but to implement the measures, which aim to overhaul the country's ailing economy and have also included reforms to Greece's fractured pension system.

The government has pledged to reduce its budget deficit, from the 2009 figure of 13.6 per cent of gross domestic product to 7 per cent by the end of next year - lower than the IMF and EU target of 7.8% required under the rescue package.


From Belfast Telegraph