Greeks Strike as Leaders Negotiate Austerity

Greek ports and tourist sites are closed today as public workers strike against more austerity.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos was in talks with European Union and International Monetary Fund officials into the early hours of Tuesday morning in an attempt to secure a new international bailout and avoid default.

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Greece’s lenders are demanding the nation accept painful reforms in exchange for a second, 130 billion-euro bailout. Papademos meets today with party leaders to discuss the reforms, and is reportedly preparing a text to put to them for their approval.

Papademos and party leaders must submit a full package to lenders with enough time for them to approve the new reforms by February 15. This is to allow time for complex legal procedures involved in a bond swap deal so that rescue funds may be distributed before 14.5 billion in debt repayments come due on March 20.

Early on Tuesday, the strike called by the private and public sector unions GSEE and ADEDY brought the Greece’s main port to a standstill. “No ships departed from Piraeus port this morning, as a result of the seamen’s strike,” said a coast guard official.

Tourists were locked out of the Acropolis and public transport was disrupted during the morning rush hour. Employees of state hospitals, telecom companies, and banks left many important services understaffed as they joined the strike.

In central Athens, tourists were locked out of the Acropolis and public transport was disrupted during the morning rush hour. State hospitals ran on a skeleton staff and teachers, bank employees and telecoms workers were due to join the action.

But while scuffles broke out as protesting strikers tried to climb the steps leading to parliament, some spraying red paint on the steps and the wall next to the tomb of the unknown soldier, the turnout today was noticeably smaller than at other protests in recent months as heavy showers drenched marchers.

Some protesters warmed themselves by burning a German flag. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has led the push for Greece to issue deeply unpopular spending cuts, and on Monday told Athens to make up its find fast if it would accept the deal for a second bailout.

But talks with the so-called “troika” of lenders — the European Commission, ECB, and IMF — are not going well, said Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos. “Unfortunately the negotiations are so tough that as soon as one chapter closes, another opens,” he said after meeting troika officials on Monday night.

Greece has yet to identify spending cut measures worth 600 million euros this year, out of a total austerity package of 3.3 billion euros.

The troika is asking for supplementary pensions to be cut about 15 percent on average to make the pension system more financially viable.

The troika is also demanding that private firms’ wage costs be cut by about a fifth, which would be done by reducing the national minimum wage by about 20 percent or scrapping some industry-wide wage bargaining agreements, in order to improve competitiveness.

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