Wed Jul 26 06:39:30 SAST 2017

Strikers shut down services in Athens over cuts

By AFP | 2017-05-18 10:19:32.0

A 24-hour strike gripped Greece yesterday, disrupting travel and shutting down services, as unions mobilised against a new round of austerity cuts imposed by international creditors.

The walkout cut off maritime traffic for a second day while dozens of flights had to be cancelled or rescheduled and hospitals ran on emergency staff. Separate protests were held in Athens and other major cities yesterday.

"We want to send a decisive message to the government, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that we will not let them cut up our lives," Alekos Perrakis, a senior member of communist union PAME, told reporters.

The mobilisation is aimed against new pension and tax break cuts forced on Greece by its EU-IMF creditors in return for bail-out cash. The bill to be approved tonight entails R709,4-billion in cuts in 2018-2021, state agency ANA said.

The leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras grudgingly accepted to legislate another round of pension cuts and lower tax breaks - applicable in 2019 and 2020 respectively - to unlock the cash payment ahead of looming debt repayments in July.

The tax break cut on its own "is tantamount to losing one-and-a-half (months') salary," Perrakis said.

In return, Greece will enact poverty support measures - such as subsidies on rent and medicine - over the same period of time. Police unionists unfurled a huge black banner from Lycabettus Hill atop Athens in German and Greek, addressed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Tsipras.

"What is the life of a police officer worth?" it asked, referring to the cuts.

Under Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, eurozone powerhouse Germany has been pushing Greece for the past seven years to make recurring cuts in return for bail-out cash.

Germany has footed an important share of Greece's three rescue bail-outs since 2010. Athens hopes that the loan payment will be approved by a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on May 22.

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