Greek doctors, public transport workers on strike

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Associated Press

Posted on January 31, 2013 at 2:38 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 31 at 11:33 AM

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greek doctors, port workers and public transport staff in the country's capital walked off the job Thursday in strikes against deeply unpopular austerity measures that have seen incomes slashed as the country struggles to emerge from a deep financial crisis.

The country's main unions also announced a nationwide general strike for Feb. 20, the latest in a series of such walkouts over the past two years that disrupt services across the country and are accompanied by sometimes violent demonstrations.

"The brutal suppression of workers' basic and fundamental rights and the bleeding dry through taxation of workers and pensioners have gone beyond all limits," the main GSEE union said in announcing the general strike.

On Thursday morning, hundreds of protesters gathered at separate demonstrations, with port workers rallying in Greece's main port of Piraeus and about 500 public hospital workers chanting slogans outside the Health Ministry in central Athens.

One of the demonstrators, Tassos Antonopoulos, a member of the Greek Federation of Public Hospital Workers, said it wasn't just medical staff who were suffering because of the cuts.

"People have less and more expensive options," he said. "It is not possible for the citizens of this country, at a time when they are suffering from this situation and the crisis in the country, to not find the care that they deserve in the public hospitals."

The strikes left Athens without buses, suburban rail and trolleys for the day, while Greek islands will be without ferry services for two days. With doctors and ambulance workers also on strike, public hospitals were functioning with emergency staff only on Thursday.

The capital's subway system was running, however, as its workers were still under a civil mobilization order after the government invoked rare emergency powers last week to end an eight-day metro strike.

The civil servants' union declared a three-hour work stoppage at all public services from noon in solidarity, shutting down other services such as post offices.

Greece has been gripped by a severe financial crisis since late 2009 and is being kept afloat by billions of euros in rescue loans from other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund. In return, the government has imposed wave upon wave of spending cuts and tax hikes, leading to severe salary and pension cuts and leaving unemployment spiraling to above 26 percent. Many of those still employed have not received paychecks in months.

"We want collective agreements to be signed, and back payments for working people to be paid," said Savas Tsiboglou, head of the Greek Association of Merchant Marine Mechanics, as he demonstrated Thursday morning in Piraeus.

Workers have been protesting the abolition of collective wage agreements and planned reforms to the pension and income contribution system. Other measures that took effect this year include a 25 percent cut to the incomes of most public servants, leading to a string of new strikes and protests.

Separately, farmers in central Greece parked their tractors along the country's main highway for a second day, under the watchful eye of riot police, threatening to shut the road to protest spending cuts and high fuel taxes.

Similar protests by farmers in the past have led to widespread disruption to transport and the supply of goods, with the central north-south highway shut for weeks.

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Srdjan Nedeljkovic in Athens contributed.

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