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Greece hit by general strike ahead of austerity vote


08:35, July 17, 2013

ATHENS, July 16 (Xinhua) -- Greece was hit by a fresh 24-hour strike on Tuesday on the eve of a key parliament vote over a new set of austerity and reform measures, including mass layoffs in the public service.

The mobilization, the first of this summer and the third this year, caused disruptions in flights as traffic controllers held a work stoppage, hospitals operated on emergency personnel and public transport services were partially disrupted.

As the debate on the omnibus bill began inside the assembly, thousands of employees walked off their jobs and marched to the streets of central Athens, waving banners and shouting slogans such as "We are people, not numbers," outside the parliament building.

According to estimates, about 20,000 people participated in the Athens main rally, while similar protests were held in other cities across Greece.

Under the government's most controversial plan included in the draft bill, some 4,000 employees will be fired until the end of the year and an additional 12,500 will be put on a mobility scheme with the prospect of dismissal in 2014, so that Athens can receive the next installments of rescue loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund this summer and in autumn.

A month ago, approximately 2,600 employees became the first civil servants to be sacked in decades in Greece, with the shutdown of the national television and radio broadcaster ERT. The move led to a government crisis, leaving the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras with a slim five-seat majority in the parliament.

"Let's fire the government instead. No more layoffs in the private and public sector," read banners raised on Syntagma square.

"Dismissals are part of our reality in the sector of education over the past few years, in addition to uninsured work and the encroachment of legislation in regards to educational standards," teacher Nikos Paizis told Xinhua near the parliament building.

"Every month something new comes up which increases insecurity among people. Only awareness can change this tragic situation," he added.

"There is no mobility scheme. There are only layoffs. The Minister of Administrative Reform and e-Governance Kyriakos Mitsotakis told us yesterday that there is no financial benefit, neither certain goal, nor any program for the planned transfers. They have signed a certain number of layoffs and they must stick to it," Manos Katsouros, an angry municipal employee, told Xinhua nearby.

Municipal workers who will be among the most affected in the next wave of dismissals joined Tuesday's 24-hour nationwide mobilization which was organized by the two main umbrella trade unions of public and private sector employees ADEDY and GSEE.

It was part of a long series of strikes and rallies organized by various labor unions on a daily basis this week ahead of the vote scheduled for Wednesday midnight.

The bill is expected to pass the parliament, according to local analysts. However, protesters on Tuesday vowed to continue mobilizations.

They said that after rounds of pay cuts and tax hikes introduced since 2010 under bailout deals with international lenders to avoid default, with unemployment rates of 28 percent and deep recession in the sixth year, Greek society cannot bear more burdens.

"The message of today's protest is overturn this government and these policies right now. The entire Greece is out on the roads, because it is time to get rid of all these nightmares," Katsouros said.

Paizis is more pessimistic about the outcome of such mobilizations. "Unfortunately in the past three years, despite the strong reaction of people and unions, political parties move on with the policy they have carved," he noted.

The government on its part defends the painful policies, underlining that they are necessary to reduce expenses and deficits, upgrade the civil services and restore growth to exit the crisis.

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