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Strike shuts down Greek services

Public and private services have shut down across Greece as unions hold a 24-hour general strike to protest against further austerity cuts in the recession-plagued country.

The stoppage disrupted public transport, halted ferry and train services, shut down state-run schools and left state hospitals and the ambulance service functioning with emergency staff.

Dozens of flights were cancelled or rescheduled as air traffic controllers planned to walk off the job for three hours from noon in support of the labour action.

The strike comes during tough negotiations between the government and debt inspectors from the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission, known collectively as the troika, over what measures are needed to plug a budget gap next year.

Two separate protest marches are being held in central Athens.

Greece has been surviving on international rescue loans from the IMF and other European countries that use the euro since 2010, after a combination of failed financial stewardship, loss of investor confidence and the global recession brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.

Successive governments have passed repeated rounds of deep spending cuts and tax hikes to secure 240 billion euro (£200 billion) in bailout loans.

Greece and the troika differ over the size of the budget gap. Athens maintains the shortfall will be around 500 million euro £420 million) and can be plugged relatively easily, but finance minister Yannis Stournaras has conceded creditors expect the gap to be five times as big.

At stake is Greece's next bailout instalment of a billion euro (£840 million).

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