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Strikes paralyze Greece’s government

At least 16,000 protesters converged on central Athens and another 10,000 gathered in Thessaloniki yesterday to protest the government’s austerity measures. Above, a protestor carried a flag outside the Supreme Administrative Court. At least 16,000 protesters converged on central Athens and another 10,000 gathered in Thessaloniki yesterday to protest the government’s austerity measures. Above, a protestor carried a flag outside the Supreme Administrative Court. (Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg News)
By Elena Becatoros and Menelaos Hadjicostis
Associated Press / October 6, 2011

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ATHENS - Greek civil servants walked off the job yesterday, paralyzing the government and public transport to protest ever-deeper austerity measures.

As Greece struggles to avoid a catastrophic default, demonstrators expressed outrage over their misfortune and bewilderment at a crisis that shows no signs of easing.

“Nobody knows what’s going on. Every day they say something different. It’s all so unclear,’’ said Irini Sypsomou-Arapogianni, a 57-year-old Finance Ministry employee.

She said the government should have acted more boldly to stem the country’s chronic tax evasion and seems to have lost its way, despite pledges to stabilize the economy.

At least 16,000 protesters converged on central Athens, and another 10,000 gathered in Thessaloniki. The vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful, but a few dozen protesters near parliament threw stones at police, who fired tear gas. Police said 10 people were arrested and two officers slightly injured.

Air traffic controllers joined the 24-hour strike, grounding all flights. State hospitals were running on emergency staff; lawyers, teachers, and tax officers did not work. Public transport employees were holding work stoppages, and state television and radio pulled news programs off the air.

Civil servants are protesting plans to suspend about 30,000 staff on partial pay, part of new cutbacks that come on top of salary and pension cuts. Greece has also had numerous tax hikes over the past year and a half.

Greece has relied on a $145 billion package of international bailout loans since May 2010, but it has slipped on meeting budget targets required to qualify for the funds. The economy is expected to contract 5.5 percent this year, unemployment has spiraled to above 16 percent, and businesses have closed.

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said Greece has enough money to pay pensions, salaries, and bondholders through mid-November. But Greece needs the next batch of loans, worth $10.5 billion, to avoid bankruptcy.

Venizelos insisted Greece would avoid a default but urged his countrymen to pay their taxes and support the government’s efforts.