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Anti-austerity strikes plague Greece

ATHENS, Greece, Sept. 22 (UPI) -- Public and private transportation services across Greece were shut down Thursday as workers held 24-hour strikes to protest the government's austerity reforms.

The country's two main labor unions also called for 24-hour strikes for Oct. 5 and Oct. 19 to protest the reforms as well, Ekathimerini.com reported.

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Transit and transportation employees walked out Thursday to protest the government's plans to streamline services, transfer staff to other public-sector jobs and place thousands of public employees on a labor reserve system with deeply cut salaries for 12 months in a bid to right the country's troubled economy.

Taxi drivers, protesting the opening up of their profession to competition, also staged a walkout Thursday. Air travelers were delayed as air-traffic controllers conducted a three-hour walkout Thursday and called for another a 24-hour strike on Sunday.

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Also, secondary school teachers protesting cutbacks joined the 24-hour strike Thursday and elementary school teachers conducted rolling work stoppages.

Several government buildings were sites of employee sit-ins Wednesday, Ekathimerini said. The Finance Ministry staff called a 48-hour strike for Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the new round of wage cuts, and is expected to be joined by tax and customs personnel.

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The government said the austerity measures are necessary so it can receive a $10.6 billion aid infusion, part of a loan package established by eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund to help Greece pay its huge debts and prevent a default.

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The measures announced Wednesday affect pensions, tax rates and civil servant posts, the BBC said.

"This is a policy we do not tolerate, we do not want. We are in continuous, total, permanent opposition to it, General Confederation of the Workers in Greece President Yannis Panagopoulos said.

The business sector also has criticized the new measures, the BBC said.

"There is no compass, this government doesn't know where it's going," Constantinos Michalos, who heads the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told state TV.

"People are going to revolt for sure. How can you milk a cow when it hasn't been fed?" Michalos asked the BBC.

Government spokesman Elias Mossialos said the latest measures send a message to its partners and markets that "Greece both wishes and is able to fulfill its commitments and remain at the core of the eurozone and the [European Union]."

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