ATHENS — Greece’s government used a rare emergency order Wednesday to force striking fuel tanker drivers back to work after their protest threatened tourism and began causing food shortages.
The government issued the civil mobilization order on the third full day of a crippling strike that has closed most Greek gas stations. The standoff followed months of labor union opposition to austerity measures in debt-strapped Greece.
“No special interest has the right to hold Greek society hostage. No one has the right to paralyze the country — no one,’’ Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said.
The union leader of the strike, Giorgos Tzortzatos, refused to say whether his members would comply with the order. “We are now soldiers of the Greek state and we’ll wait to see our order,’’ he told Alter television.
The mobilization order, issued hours after negotiations between the government and strikers collapsed, requires drivers to return to work under national emergency provisions normally reserved for wartime and natural disasters, or face criminal prosecution with penalties carrying a five-year jail term.
About 70 percent of gas stations in Athens have run out of supplies, their owners’ federation said, while fresh-food shortages and temporary factory closures were reported in parts of Greece.
Protesting drivers oppose an overhaul in licensing rules that are part of economic austerity measures agreed upon in order for Greece to get rescue loans from European countries and the International Monetary Fund.
IMF and European auditors are in Athens to inspect the progress of overhauls that slashed pensions and civil servants’ salaries and revamped the country’s welfare system.