Greece hit by new 24-hour general strike over austerity
24-hour general strike is underway in Greece in protest at the nation’s austerity measures.
Flights and ferry services have been cancelled, schools, government offices and tourist sites closed, and hospitals are working with reduced staff.
Thousands of people are expected to join protests in central Athens, organised by the main unions.
The European Commission is discussing ways of propping up banks in Europe to protect them from the Greek crisis.
Global financial markets have been in turmoil over fears that the country could default on its debt, most of which are held by European banks.
On Monday, the Moody’s ratings agency slashed Italy’s credit rating from Aa2 to A2, blaming an overall loss in confidence in eurozone governments.
Belgium and France are already working on plans to rescue the Franco-Belgian Dexia bank, which is heavily exposed to Greek debt.
That move meant that despite the Italian downgrade, European markets rose sharply as trading opened on Wednesday.
Greece must implement the stringent austerity measures in order to secure its next instalment of bailout cash from the EU.
But the measures are hugely unpopular and have led to a wave of strikes and protests.
Wednesday’s general strike in Greece is the first since the government announced an emergency property tax and the suspension of 30,000 public sector staff last month.
Thousands of people are gathering in central Athens to march towards Syntagma Square and stage a demonstration outside parliament.
“If we don’t take our lives back into our own hands and go on strike, how will we survive?” said one Athens resident, Maria Bargiadaki.
Greek civil servant and trade unionist Tiana Andreou told the BBC that people in the country were very angry.
This is expected to be the biggest show of force from Greece’s public sector workers in many weeks.
For the first time this year, air traffic controllers will stop work for 24 hours, causing major disruption at Athens airport, while many hospitals and schools will also close.
Public anger against the austerity measures is growing but the government says it will stay its course.
It is, though, a race against time, as this country rushes to implement deep structural reforms and public sector cuts to avoid defaulting on its debt: something that could spread contagion throughout the global economy.
“Our lives have been ruined. We have decided that we’re going to stop this.”
Inspectors from the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission have been in Greece this week to assess its financial situation.
But eurozone finance minister this week delayed a decision on handing over the money, after Greece said it would not meet this year’s deficit cutting plan.
The government admitted that the budget deficit will stand at 8.5% this year, rather than the 7.5% target.
Stathis Anestis, a spokesman for Greece’s main union GSEE, said the new measures were “just extending the unfair and barbaric policies which suck dry workers’ rights and revenues and push the economy deeper into recession and debt”.
“With this strike, the government, the EU and the IMF will be forced to reconsider these disastrous policies,” he told Reuters.
The government has enough cash to pay pensions, salaries and bondholders until mid-November, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said on Tuesday.
Greece had previously said it needed more money by mid-October to avoid a default.
Some militant civil servants are promising to sabotage the reforms and on Tuesday, protesters again blocked the entrance to several government departments including the finance and transport ministries.
They say the austerity drive is deepening the recession, stunting Greece’s growth – the economy will shrink 5.5% this year – and stopping Greece from being able to reduce its government debt itself.