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Greek truckers block roads in protest

Associated Press / September 23, 2010

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ATHENS — Truck drivers blocked traffic for hours on Greece’s two busiest highways and clashed with police in front of parliament yesterday, as lawmakers approved a shake-up of labor market rules as part of an agreement for international rescue loans.

The drivers, protesting for a 10th day, sealed off the highways outside Athens minutes after parliament voted in favor of legislation to scrap restricted licensing rules for trucks. The roads opened to traffic several hours later.

Protesters who had been camped outside parliament overnight left yesterday after minor scuffles with police, but vowed to mount a wildcat roadblock campaign through tomorrow.

Truckers say the changes are too abrupt and will bankrupt those of their colleagues who have borrowed money to buy a truck license.

Giorgos Tzortzatos, leader of the Greek truck owners union, pressed the government for concessions, including tax and pension breaks.

“We have lost all we had, but the government is showing no understanding,’’ he said. “We have nothing left now that the law has been passed.’’

Greece has promised to reform its labor market as part of austerity measures agreed in return for $144 billion in rescue loans from European countries and the International Monetary Fund.

After changing rules for truck drivers, the Socialist government has promised to introduce similar changes to end so-called closed shop professions, including pharmacists, lawyers, and architects.

“Greece is the only country out of the 27 in the European Union that still has these restricted rules (for truckers),’’ Transport Minister Dimitris Reppas told parliament. “Everyone knew this reform had to happen.’’

In a week of escalating protests, workers at the state-run Hellenic Railways held a five-hour work stoppage, while local government workers are planning a strike today.